Hundreds pack Kotzebue gymnasium to honor and remember Ashley Johnson-Barr
A funeral and potluck were held in Kotzebue Saturday in honor of Ashley Johnson-Barr, a 10-year-old girl who went missing for eight days before she was found dead Sept. 14.
Hundreds of mourners packed the gymnasium at Kotzebue Middle High School, singing hymns, reading prayers and sharing memories. Large swathes of the crowd were dressed in purple, Johnson-Barr's favorite color.
Dr. Beau Abernathy, a reverend and high school teacher, took to the stage to tell fond memories of Johnson-Barr, including a time when she knocked on his church door asking for snacks after he forgot to give them out.
Other pastors from across Kotzebue offered prayers and recalled that Johnson-Barr had attended church the weekend before she disappeared. Pastor Tim Ungry, who leads the Bible Baptist Church that Johnson-Barr attended, said her soul was saved and she would be in heaven.
An obituary given to mourners at the funeral said the fifth-grade student "absolutely loved playing basketball and played every day she was able." Johnson-Barr also loved jumping into the ocean off Front Street, picking berries with her mom and looking after her niece Raylin.
Her teachers all remembered Johnson-Barr as a good student with a warm smile who was always kind and gentle.
After the funeral concluded, close family conducted a brief private service as the gymnasium emptied. Johnson-Barr’s body was then taken out of the school inside a purple casket before being driven across town led by a procession of emergency vehicles. An honor guard of people lined Third and Fifth Avenues.
Her casket was then carried by pallbearers, many of whom were family, and then buried in a graveyard adorned with purple balloons.
Teachers say Johnson-Barr's funeral was the first held in the Kotzebue Middle High School gymnasium, the same space that President Barack Obama gave an historic speech back in 2015.
A potluck soon followed the burial with food donated from many regions from across Alaska. Family and elders were fed first before hundreds of people gathered in a line that snaked through the school cafeteria.
Scotty Barr, Ashley's father, told Channel 2 that he and his family were grateful to everyone who had helped search for his daughter and the donations that had come in since her death.