Community lifts up Valley shooting victim’s mother with surprise in Anchorage
From everything everyone has told us about 18-year-old Gunnar Swan's mother, she's used to taking care of everyone else. This time, community members - who'd met her and her only child before his death last week - wanted to take care of her.
"When I heard the news, I contacted Monika, because I met them this summer at our house," said Katie Ferguson of the Alaska State Sno-X Lions Club. "First thing was that I reached out to ask what I could do."
Gunnar was the only child of his mother, Monika, but was loved by many and known as a huge fan of racing.
"Great kid, great energy, great passion," said Mark DeRocchi, also of the State Sno-X Lions Club. He said he'd met Gunnar when the latter was teaching Ferguson's kids how to ride motorcycles.
"It's not about you have to know them individually," DeRocchi said. "This is about a community coming together."
So, Ferguson, DeRocchi and the Alaska State Sno-X Lions Club sprang into action to put together a memorial race in Gunnar's honor.
"He has a really young group of friends," Ferguson said. "We saw they were planning an event on the same day. We just asked them to spread the word, so we could combine everything together."
That memorial race, held in Willow, is how we arrived at an Anchorage auto dealer Friday afternoon.
"What I saw last week was a lady that was so strong," DeRocchi said. "She could support those also grieving. As a mother I watched her, she was the strongest in the room the entire day.
"What I'm hoping today is for her to have an overwhelming relief of, 'Wow, someone is taking care of me,'" he said.
The memorial race raised thousands of dollars for Gunnar's family - primarily, the single mother who, along with her own grief, is now dealing with cremation costs, funeral arrangements, and her car, which was impounded by law enforcement following the fatal shooting of her son inside it. Not to mention, those who know her said she's been trying to make everyone else feel better.
"We know that she's a consoler," Ferguson said, "and we didn't want her to go and be like, 'Oh, here, take this, and take this,' and give it to other people, because that's her personality.
"We really wanted to do something to benefit her," she said, "because that's what Gunnar would've wanted."
So, after figuring out what exactly to do with the money raised at the memorial race last weekend, Ferguson, DeRocchi and Swan's sisters came up with an idea.
"We just thought, 'Let's surprise her!'" Ferguson said. "It's just really exciting."
Swan and a few family members pulled up to Quality Auto Sales, where Ferguson finally got to let her know what was happening.
"We were able to get you a new SUV," Ferguson exclaimed. Swan was very obviously grateful, relieved, and surprised.
"This is amazing," she said, after checking out her new vehicle. "I was really stressed about the car. I felt like I could manage some of the smaller, other things I needed to manage right now. The car just felt looming...
"And now that I'm starting to process things, I'm trying to figure out, how do I make my life really matter from here on out, you know?" she said.
For now, there is a little bit of relief, and one big task off a daunting list.
"To have someone, a bunch of other people come along, and to say, 'Hey, we did this for you,' that's incredible," Swan said. "I'm beyond grateful."