ST. MICHAEL, Alaska — The two brothers sat a few houses apart, each tending to his own anger. Justice is slow in Alaska villages, they have learned. Sometimes it never arrives.
Chuck Lockwood, 69, grew up in this Yup’ik Eskimo village of 400 along the Norton Sound coast but left as a child for boarding school. His rage is fresh.
Two years ago this month, the body of his 19-year-old granddaughter, Chynelle “Pretty” Lockwood, was found on a local beach. Alaska State Troopers have refused to say how she died, citing an open investigation. It appeared she had been dumped there, said Chuck, who believes it was a homicide. “Brutally murdered. Beaten up.”
Near Chuck’s family home, his younger brother Lawrence Lockwood Jr. watches crime dramas alone in his living room. His rage is long simmering. Lawrence grew up here too, but unlike his brother he didn’t go away for school.
He was among an entire generation of children, now mostly in their 50s and 60s, who survived years of sexual abuse by Jesuit priests and Catholic church personnel shipped to the village of St. Michael. His wife was abused too.
Nine Jesuit priests, volunteers and laypersons who served in St. Michael between 1949 and 1987 were later credibly accused of sexual abuse, the Diocese of Fairbanks has acknowledged. The church has apologized for the abuse.
“What we grew up with can’t be erased,” Lawrence said.
The brothers’ grief, a lifetime apart, illustrates the serialized experience of violent crime and trauma, and a persistent lack of justice, that affects entire villages in Alaska. Some wounds are older than statehood.
St. Michael and its next door neighbor Stebbins are among the 14 small Alaska city governments that the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica identified last week as having hired police officers with extensive criminal records, at least in part because there are no state-funded law enforcement officers here. The U.S. Department of Justice recently labeled the lack of law enforcement in rural Alaska a federal emergency.
Many of the children who lived in St. Michael and Stebbins in the late 1960s and 1970s were sexually assaulted by Rev. George Endal and laypersons Anton Smario and Joseph Lundowski, said John Manly, an attorney who represented the survivors in lawsuits filed in Bethel Superior Court.
The Society of Jesus, Oregon Province settled a suit related to the Alaska abuse for $50 million in 2007. The Fairbanks Diocese filed for bankruptcy and subsequently settled a raft of similar claims for around $10 million. Lundowski, who was the subject of more than 100 reports of abuse, and Endal died before the lawsuits began; Smario denied abusing girls but admitted to being naked in front of them. It is unclear if Smario, who would be in his late 90s, is alive today. He could not be reached for comment. (All three men were named in lawsuits and are included on the Diocese of Fairbanks’ “list of perpetrators.")
“It [was] physical and cultural rape by the Jesuit order and Catholic diocese. And they knew what was happening,” Manly said. “These families, imagine every child in your community being molested, and what that would be like. That’s what they’re dealing with there.”
For the Lockwood brothers and many others in Stebbins and St. Michael, any expectation the Alaska criminal justice system will energetically investigate sexual assault or hold people accountable if they hurt children has been eroded by generations of neglect.
It is hard to compare Alaska villages to anywhere else in the United States. Most villages can only be reached by plane or boat. There are few jobs. Sometimes there’s no running water. Hunting and fishing are not just hobbies but necessary to feed a family. Cultures are rooted in a sense of place and community.
“The way of being a Yup’ik person is to live in peace, interconnected with the land, with ourselves, each other, animals and the universe,” said Elsie Boudreau, who grew up in the nearby village of St. Mary’s and was one of the first survivors of Alaska clergy abuse to talk publicly about it.
Combined, the villages of St. Michael and Stebbins are home to more than 1,000 people, including more than 400 children, yet there is no state-funded village public safety officer or trooper in either community. In Stebbins, all seven of the city police officers working as of July 1 had been convicted of domestic violence, the Daily News and ProPublica reported.
Law enforcement has failed the villages before.
While the head of the Jesuit order in the northwest denied using the villages as a dumping ground for offender priests, attorneys for abuse survivors say it’s hard to imagine how so many predatory clergy and volunteers ended up in remote Alaska communities.
Eight miles of grassy tundra and wild iris separate St. Michael and Stebbins. In Stebbins, the Bering Sea shoreline is ruler straight, racks of drying salmon lining the shore. In St. Michael, named for the archangel, the coast curves like a fiddle head. Four-wheelers buzz constantly between the two.
The victims of the clergy abuse are now elders and grandparents. But they never saw their abusers face criminal charges.
“So many of the men that are now married and have children or grandchildren have this history. This secret. And have not had an opportunity to really heal from that,” Boudreau said.
Lawrence, who at 63 is no longer Catholic, hates the idea of any kind of sexual abuse continuing in Alaska villages today.
“It really hurts me when I see, read or hear on the radio,” he said. “It makes me more [angry] and I want to do something but, ahhhh, I’m not a violent man.”
His brother Chuck grapples with the same feelings. He now lives in Anchorage but visited family in St. Michael in June, still waiting for resolution to his granddaughter’s death.
Alaska State Troopers have not said how Chynelle died, but the bruises on her face and the missing chunk of her thick hair suggested to her family that someone might have killed her.
Chuck doesn’t want Chynelle to join the list of missing or murdered indigenous women whose cases have gone unsolved. On July 11, the family mourned the second anniversary of her death.
Chuck said he has resisted the urge to take the law into his own hands. His father was a religious man, he said, and wouldn’t have approved of violence. “He would say: ‘Let it go. God will take care.’”