UPDATE: arrest made in murder of Kristen Huntington
UPDATE: Fairbanks Police said Thursday night they have made an arrest in the murder of Kristen Huntington.
Eric Palmer Rustad, age 39, was taken into custody at approximately 6:00 p.m. Thursday on a no-bail warrant. He was charged with 1st degree murder, tampering with physical evidence and misconduct with a corpse, according to Teal Soden, Communications Director for the City of Fairbanks.
Soden said there will be a press briefing Friday at 11:00 at Fairbanks Police Department and more information will be released at that time.
People across the state gathered together at candlelight vigils dedicated to Kristen Huntington, an indigenous woman with an Athabaskan background. Communities came together Wednesday night to remember her in her hometown of Selawik, Anchorage, and Fairbanks.
According to Fairbanks police, Huntington was last seen on January 8th. Just four days later, she was found dead in a vacant apartment complex. Police are now investigating as a homicide.
Channel 2 reporters reached out to Rebecca Sparks, Huntington’s childhood friend she met in Anchorage in the fourth grade. She said Huntington left behind two children.
“To say that it’s sad is a complete understatement,” she said, “I think I’m not alone in wishing that if anyone could get something back, it would be her to them.”
The Anchorage Vigil was put on by Native Movement. Charlene Aqpik Apok led the vigil and helped organize the planning. She said stories like this one are becoming all too familiar in Alaska and other areas.
“A lot of us have been personally impacted through our own families,” she said, “and so, unfortunately, we relate personally when we hear stories such as Kristin Huntington. It’s something we’ve all been through personally in our lives.”
The candlelight vigil at Delaney Park Strip had a turnout of around 20 people. There were words, songs, and prayers amongst those in attendance, led by Apok.
While Huntington’s death and the resulting candlelight vigils are part of a staggering trend of Alaskan Indigenous women being the targets of violence, Apok said gatherings like that are about healing and communities leaving them stronger.
“We’re really centering healing for our communities because it is so heavy, it’s so hard,” she said, “it’s something that we’ve been going through for decades, if not for hundreds of years, and so we need to do this in a good way. We need to do it in a healing way.”
Sparks said she feels similarly, however, the feeling is different when it’s someone you’ve known most of your life.
“You wish you didn’t have to know somebody, you wish you didn’t have a connection to the issue,” she said, “and this one being one that’s so prominent right now, just to know that it’s right here, it’s right next to you, it makes it ten times scarier.”
While communities came together for these vigils, Apok and Sparks said these are reminders that there needs to be change to stop this trend of violence against indigenous women.
“I just hope that there’s something that’s done moving forward,” Sparks said, “I just hope that it’s not just something that’s talked about, that there’s action and I hope that any good comes from this.”