Under normal circumstances, Julie Sexton would tell her grandkids to go outdoors on a pleasant sunny day. But on Friday she kept them indoors and close -- bringing them a box of Legos to play with instead.
"We tried to keep everything as normal as possible," Sexton said.
She and her husband, Dan Sexton, live on Dana Barry Street, within the perimeter law enforcement officers had set up while conducting a manhunt for a suspect in a shooting Friday afternoon that left one man dead.
Alaska State Troopers Saturday identified the victim as 23-year-old Brendon McGee. Investigators said they were still searching for a suspect in the homicide.
Before the shooting on Friday, Sexton had taken her three grandchild to Soldotna Creek Park to play. One of those youngsters belonged to the Sexton's daughter, Rebecca Stowell, who had brought one of her children up from Colorado to visit with her grandparents.
Julie Sexton was driving the kids down the dirt road that leads home around 2:20 p.m. The house juts out from the dense woods, which surround the houses that are sprinkled throughout the subdivision. She was barely 100 feet away from her home when trouble started.
A state trooper stopped her at Whitlock Avenue. He told her that a "dangerous man" was in the area and she had to leave. As she drove away the kids asked her what kind of a bad guy the troopers were looking for.
"'Is he a robber or a burglar?'" said Sexton, imitating the youngsters.
She pretended not to know and told the children the best thing they could do was pray together. Once they calmed down, the kids suggested seeing a movie near the house.
"I thought to myself: no way, we're getting out of here," she said.
Sexton took them to lunch, then brought the kids back to the park until they could return home.
Back the Sexton house, Stowell and her father already had returned from a fishing trip just before 2 p.m. That's about the same time that Troopers and local law enforcement were responding to the shooting.
"We must have pulled in just before they locked everything down," Stowell said.
That left Dan Sexton and daughter Stowell trapped inside the perimeter while Julie Sexton and the grandkids waited outside.
The father and daughter had lunch and said they attempted to go about their day as if nothing unusual was happening. They sat in the kitchen and kept an eye on the property. Sexton said that the two watched the helicopter circling above and tried to remain as aware of their surroundings as possible. The retired gardener called his elderly neighbors to let them know what was happening and watered the plants in his sunroom.
Stowell watched a little TV and sent e-mails to her friends.
"I tried not to think about it," she said.
At one point, Stowell's son became scared and called her.
"I told him it's alright," she said. "It will be OK."
Julie Sexton tried to bring the kids home again at approximately 5:30 p.m. This time the troopers let her in. The children got anxious on the way up the driveway. Sexton said that they gathered up their belongings in the car and made a run for the house.
Normally she forces the kids to play on their front lawn during sunny streaks in the summer, but Friday they scrambled into the house.
The family had dinner and kept the conversation mundane so as not to scare the children.
"We tried not to mention that anybody had been killed," she said.
Dan Sexton said that the kids were noticeably worried and kept asking if the doors were locked.
"'Did you lock the doors Papa?'" he mimicking a child's voice.
After dinner, the Sexton's son, Trent, picked up his daughters and took them to his home in Soldotna. Dan Sexton said the situation remained tense because the troopers never notified him of the results of the manhunt.
"I was disappointed there was no word," he said.
Eventually he called the troopers' office who informed him that they were confident that the suspect had left the area.
He said that a neighboring property, which he described as a "drug house" by locals, concerns him more than Friday's incident.
"It's more terrifying than this situation," he said.
Tony Cella can be reached at email@example.com.
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