Three dead in apparent suicide-homicides in Chefornak

Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Three people were found dead in an apparent double murder-suicide Tuesday morning in the Western Alaska village of Chefornak, Alaska State Troopers said.

Troopers said Joseph Wiseman, 28, apparently hung himself with a piece of clothesline after fatally shooting 32-year-old Ann Tunuchuk and her 11-year-old daughter, Albertina, at a nearby home. Wiseman's body was found outside his home, hanging from the pipe of his stove-oil tank.

A village police officer called troopers in Bethel at about 8 a.m. to report Wiseman's death. While the village officer was still on the phone with troopers, someone ran into the office to report that a woman and her daughter had been found shot to death inside another home, troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson said.

Bloody footprints were found between the two homes, Wilkinson said.

Troopers from Bethel flew to the village of about 400 people Tuesday to investigate. Chefornak, with a population of 394, is about 100 miles southwest of Bethel and 490 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Wiseman reportedly had been drinking before the shootings, according to troopers. They said Wiseman went to the home with a shotgun Monday night or early Tuesday and killed Tunuchuk and her daughter.

Wilkinson said Tunuchuk's father found the bodies.

Tunuchuk had been housesitting for her sister and brother-in-law.

Troopers said they have not found a motive for the killings and that no relationship existed between Wiseman and Tunuchuk.

All three bodies were to be transported to Anchorage for autopsies by the state medical examiner's office.

Ann Tunuchuk was a teacher's aide at the Chefornak K-12 School.

''She was a very positive person in the lives of the youth,'' said principal John Wachmann. ''It's just unreal. How do you deal with it?''

The deaths hit the school especially hard because of the loss of a staff member and a student, Wachmann said. Tunuchuk's mother, an aunt and an uncle also work at the school.

Classes were canceled Tuesday and Wednesday to give students and faculty time to grieve. Wachmann said he did not known when classes would resume. Counselors from the Lower Kuskokwim School District were expected to fly to Chefornak to help students and employees.

Oscar Wassillie, president of the Chefornak Traditional Council, said the tragedy was fueled by alcohol.

''This town is supposed to be dry, no importation of alcohol, and they just sneak it in,'' Wassillie said.

''We're going to help each other out as a community and deal with this very bad tragedy,'' he said.

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