Brendan McGee moved quickly through the ranks as an employee at Mykel's Restaurant and Lounge.
He began working as a dishwasher at the Soldotna Inn's eatery as a gregarious 16-year-old kid. McGee's strong work ethic earned him a spot first as a prep cook and then as a line chef, according to his employers.
This is the 23-year-old man shot to death last Friday in a house that police and neighbors suspect to be a hotbed of illicit activity.
Details about the July 16 homicide continue to trickle in. Alaska State Troopers have not yet made any arrests in the case. Neighbors say the shooting took place at 47895 Andrews Ave. in Soldotna off of Kalifornsky Beach Road.
In 2004, The U.S. Department of Justice listed the Andrews Avenue property, where McGee was shot, in its National Clandestine Laboratory Register.
The register contains addresses of some locations where law enforcement groups reportedly found chemicals or other items that indicate the possibility of drug labs or dumpsites.
The Andrews Avenue home's owner, Dean Scroggins, was in custody at Wildwood Correctional Center when the shooting allegedly occurred. Scroggins appeared at a change of plea hearing in Kenai Superior Court on Monday for a second-degree theft case.
McGee felt such a strong connection to his job at Mykel's that he came into work one day and showed off a new tattoo. Along McGee's left forearm, the Mykel's penguin held a chef's knife dripping in blood.
"He took Mykel's to heart," Alice Kerkvliet, Mykel's owner, said. "I really think we were like a second family."
But the people at McGee's work noticed him changing.
"He was a great person who fell into the wrong hands, and, unfortunately, this is the outcome," Denise McCamon, McGee's supervisor, said this week. McCamon said she bonded with McGee because they both hail from New Hampshire.
On April 4, 2004, McGee's co-workers challenged him to eat four giant hamburgers in four minutes.
"It didn't work out so well," McCamon remembered. But that didn't stop McGee from trying to eat five burgers on May 5, 2005.
McGee's co-workers won't forget his fun-loving spirit.
He was known for pulling pranks inside the kitchen, including sticking honey under the cutting boards so other chefs couldn't move them and mixing fresh eggs into the batch of hard-boiled eggs so they'd split when others tried to peel them.
One time, McGee made the mistake of telling people at work that he was afraid of Oompa-Loompas, the workers inside Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.
So another cook made a tape of the Oompa-Loompa music mixed in an assortment of styles and would randomly play it while McGee worked.
"He would be like, 'Nooo!,'" McCamon said with a laugh, while covering her face with her hands to demonstrate McGee's reaction.
McGee wasn't all about play, though.
"He didn't slack off. He always showed an interest in wanting to learn more," McCamon said. "I felt he had a lot of potential in this field."
When the restaurant would come up with a new salad special, McGee would draw a picture of it so all the other chefs would have an idea of what it should look like.
"They were so detailed, the lettuce leaves had veins in them," McCamon remembered.
Outside of work, McGee liked to do outdoorsy things, skateboard, and play music with his friends.
"He was a bro," Sonny Ogle, whose younger brother played in a band with McGee, said.
Ogle recalled one time when McGee got up during a concert at the bowling alley and started strumming on a guitar with yarn strings connected to a cardboard box that McGee had drawn on to make it resemble an amplifier.
"It's just something you don't really see. It takes a lot of guts to do something that ridiculous," Ogle said.
Part of McGee's problem, according to those who knew him, was he often acted without rational thinking.
"He was always sucked into get-rich-quick schemes," McCamon said. "It was all a matter of how he could get more money fast."
Throughout his life, McGee dabbled with trouble.
Soldotna Police Sgt. Robb Quelland said McGee's is "a name we know," meaning the victim wasn't always in trouble, but he wasn't perfectly clean, either.
Court records show that McGee was fined for purchasing marijuana in 2006.
When McGee was 21, he left his job at Mykel's and moved to Anchorage. He had previously left the job for a military stint but returned to Mykel's.
At about the time McGee left for Anchorage, the young man started acting a little differently.
"I saw in the end that he started pulling away a little more," McCamon said.
"He wasn't as young and innocent. Once he left for Anchorage he maybe changed," Kerkvliet said.
Ogle said McGee even acted different amongst friends.
"He just, I don't know what happened," Ogle said. "It was just the normal thing that people get into when they're partying. Some people have that switch. When he came back he was a little quieter."
McGee moved back to the Kenai Peninsula sometime last year, and neither his friends nor employers were sure what McGee was doing with his life or where he was living.
"I saw him over at my little bother's house in March," Ogle said. "He was kind of quiet, just hanging out. I was probably drinking some beer and he was playing video games with my brother and his roommate."
When McGee moved back from Anchorage, he checked into the Soldotna Inn and spent about two weeks there before his former employers asked him to leave.
He left the room trashed, with holes in the wall and reeking of marijuana, according to McCamon. Housekeepers found a broken light bulb propped up on the stove.
They also found a napkin with gibberish written on it about a pothole being an all-consuming black hole.
"It just wasn't normal behavior for him to write stuff like that," McCamon said.
Andrew Waite can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Clarion reporter Tony Cella contributed to this report.
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