Family say Kotzebue girl's disappearance less clear as search priorities shift

Published: Sep. 11, 2018 at 9:53 PM AKDT
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The disappearance of a young girl from a community in Northwest Alaska may be less clear than first described by authorities, according to the father of Ashley Barr-Johnson. Family describe the 10-year-old from Kotzebue as responsible, close to her six siblings, and unlikely to hide.

Meanwhile, officials from the incident management team say they need more "investigation information" before sending people out to search again Wednesday morning.

In a press release issued Friday, the Kotzebue Police Department said that initial reports suggested that the last place Barr-Johnson was seen was around 6:00 p.m. Thursday near the playground at Rainbow Park.

Walter "Scotty" Barr, Ashley's father, says he has heard conflicting accounts of what led up to her disappearance.

One version of events has her visiting another park around 5:00 p.m. Thursday before coming to Rainbow Park, while another version has her in the company of another girl. Barr says he and the authorities have tried to identify the other girl but he understands why she may be reticent to speak.

Rumors abound in the small town about what may have happened before Barr-Johnson vanished. Lt. Dave Hanson with the Alaska State Troopers says they are investigating every lead, but that in a small community, he knows "it's hard for folks not to chime in."

Barr says that Ashley's curfew is 8:30 p.m. and that the family became concerned when she didn't make it back before dark. Barr, who works at Ravn Alaska, raised the alarm with his brother Peter to come join the search. He says he called her cell phone around "20 times" before someone answered saying it had been dropped near the NANA building, roughly a half mile in the opposite direction from her usual route home from school.

Barr says that his daughter, a fifth-grade student at June Nelson Elementary School, always carries a cell phone with her when school finishes.

The Search

Dozens of volunteers streamed in and out of the Northwest Arctic Borough building throughout Tuesday, a makeshift headquarters for search and rescue efforts. Crews of people came for food and water before debriefing with officials from search and rescue organizations from across the state.

Shannon Kimball, director at large with the Alaska Search and Rescue Association, announced to the gathering of volunteers around 9:00 p.m. that all the investigation from the search and rescue effort had been completed.

She said that crews had searched 80-99 percent of the areas that needed to be searched, and that it would take new information for search efforts to continue Wednesday.

Volunteer crews will meet again at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday to decide if or when a search and rescue operation will resume.