Seeking Justice: 12-year-old Shawna Evon’s murder remains unsolved nearly three decades later
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Content Warning: This article contains information that some readers might find disturbing.
In April 1991, a 12-year-old girl named Shawna Evon went missing. She was considered a runaway at first. Then, later that year on June 8, her beaten body was found in downtown Anchorage.
Nearly three decades later, the case remains unsolved — and as the years go by, there are fewer people around to push for answers.
Missing and murdered
When Shawna Evon first went missing, her mother, Rose Evon, walked the streets of Anchorage putting up handwritten missing person posters.
She had disappeared before but always came home. This time was different.
“After she came home, changed clothes, left with a friend, I didn’t see her again,” Rose Evon told Alaska’s News Source in an interview in 1991.
Shawna Evon’s body was found weeks later in the back doorway of an abandoned building near Sixth Avenue and C Street that used to house a bar called the Monkey Wharf. Her decomposing remains were covered up by trash, a street sign and a wooden pallet piled on top of her.
Her cause of death: blunt force trauma to the head.
“I never thought this would happen to my daughter,” Rose Evon said tearfully. “If I had known, I would have had her carry things that could protect her.”
Shawna Evon left her village on Nunivak Island, in the middle of the Bering Sea, and moved to Anchorage to finish school.
That’s when she met Lena Austin and the two became fast friends.
“We were both in seventh grade in Clark Junior High School,” Austin said. “She just came in the room and had like this biggest smile on her face like she always did and we just became friends right then and there.”
Shawna Evon became known to her friends and family as “Twinkie.”
“I don’t know why she ended up with ‘Twinkie,’” Austin said. “It’s probably because she ate so many of them.”
Austin said the friend group Shawna Evon developed is still in touch today. Shawna Evon had good friends, Austin said. But adjusting to life in a big city takes time, and Shawna Evon’s life was cut short.
Shawna Evon “succumbed to culture shock” in the city, according to Anchorage Daily News archives. The paper reported on her funeral service in Anchorage, before she was taken to Bethel for burial.
According to the article, Shawna Evon’s cousin sang “Jesus Loves Me.” The pastor lamented what might have been.
“She wanted to travel,” the paper quoted Pastor Keith Fullerton as saying. “[...] She wanted to experience life.”
Over the years, Austin and their mutual friends haven’t forgotten Shawna Evon. They’ve told their children stories about her. They wonder what her life might be like today, had she not been robbed of the chance to grow up.
“If she would be here right now, you would probably see how wonderful she was,” Austin said.
A dead end
Exactly one year after her body was found, Anchorage Police Department investigators said they’d reached a dead end in the case, according to Anchorage Daily News archives.
More than a decade after the murder, police had lost contact with Shawna Evon’s family and the crime scene had turned into an empty field, but APD homicide detective Glen Klinkhart had continued to work the case.
“My examination so far of the case indicates that there were a lot of suspects, in fact, that may have been one of the problems is that everybody had a theory about what happened to poor Shawna,” Klinkhart told Alaska’s News Source in an interview in 2002.
Klinkhart discussed his plans for the case with an Alaska’s News Source reporter back in 2002, showing photos of the area where Shawna Evon was found. He had high hopes of finding her killer using new technology.
“DNA as well as new fingerprinting techniques,” he said. “So we’re going to be looking at that, especially trace evidence, those items that were left there that the killer may have left.”
But time marched on, and whatever evidence existed did not resolve the case. Detective Klinkhart left APD and Shawna Evon’s murder remains unsolved.
APD declined to participate in an interview for this report. A spokesperson said they cannot discuss the nearly three-decades-old case today because it is an open investigation.
‘We want to know’
There are plenty of happy memories of Shawna Evon but talking about her case opens up an old wound for those who remember what it was like to lose her.
“Thirty years later and the person who did it to her hasn’t been caught,” Austin said through tears. “That someone could do that to her and hid her body underneath a board and that she had been beaten so bad into her head that that’s what killed her, and then hid her body in that stairwell [...] I know it was years ago but it was just like the worst thing we ever went through.”
All of Shawna Evon’s immediate family members have passed away now, but Austin said she and her friends who also knew Shawna Evon haven’t given up hope they’ll see her killer brought to justice.
“We want to know because we were her friends,” Austin said.
It’s been 10 years since Austin said she’s heard from a detective about Shawna Evon’s case. She said she feels the case has been forgotten.
“Because it happened so long ago and, I hate to say this,” said Austin, “but because she’s Native.”
More than 29 years later, she said Shawna Evon still deserves justice.
How we change
Shawna Evon’s name is now etched in stone at the homicide victims’ memorial in downtown Anchorage, and her portrait is preserved, thanks to the work of Amber Webb, a Dillingham artist.
“I don’t know that much about her, but I could see that she’s just a beautiful little girl and she should have had a life,” she said.
Webb created an oversized qaspeq, also known as a kuspuk, bearing the faces and names of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Shawna Evon’s bright smile is at the center.
“The pain that I felt in drawing her portrait was that there was no […] there was no darkness there, it was just like pure light like a child would have,” said Webb. “There’s always light reflection in people’s eyes, and her light reflection looked like stars and I remember trying to make sure that I got those stars in there.”
The qaspeq is now on display at the Anchorage Museum, yards away from where Shawna Evon was found.
“I think that that project is calling out justice for all native women, not just the women on that project and not just the women who have been killed,” said Webb.
When she looks at Shawna Evon’s portrait, Webb sees generations of Indigenous people whose stories are untold — people who also knew the violence that cut Shawna Evon’s life short.
“You know, women have been fighting for justice for 40 years, 50 years, but it’s only now that things are starting to really move,” said Webb. “And I just imagine if people had been listening you know, 50 years ago, she wouldn’t have been killed. She would have had a different life, you know?”
Webb said she’s glad people are listening now, but there is much work to be done.
“People need to educate themselves about what colonization is, what historic trauma is, what internalized oppression is and people need to learn how to do anti-racist work because if they don’t, this stuff is going to continue,” she said. “It’s really that simple. It’s uncomfortable, but all of this is a direct result of colonial violence and racism. That’s where it’s all rooted and so how we change it is we educate ourselves and we learn how to be better.”
Rose Evon hoped for answers that never came in her lifetime. She once described her daughter to Alaska’s News Source as someone who trusted anybody.
“She was an innocent kid who had a golden heart,” she said.
To those who are still here to carry Shawna Evon’s memory in their hearts and share her story with the world, she is much more than a name, a face and now, a case number.
“She was a beautiful soul,” Austin said. “And she was precious.”
If you believe you have information related to Shawna Evon’s murder, you’re urged to call Crime Stoppers at 561-STOP or submit a tip anonymously online.
Resources: If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911. For assistance, referrals and other resources, dial 211, or check the list at the end of this story.
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