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‘Call the FBI’, Fairbanks community pleads for help locating 8 missing individuals

Published: Jan. 23, 2021 at 7:21 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -Over a hundred people gathered near downtown Fairbanks Saturday afternoon for a vigil and call to action over the high number of people that have gone missing in the Interior over the last year.

Since May of 2020, eight people have disappeared from the Fairbanks area:

  • 5/23/20 Jonathan Natarak, 17, went missing near the Chena Lakes Boat Launch.
  • 8/17/20 69-year-old Frank Minano’s truck was abandoned near the Old Nenana Highway; extensive searches did not locate Minano.
  • 8/17/20 John McCelland, 61, went missing, his travel direction unknown.
  • 8/20/20 Debbie Nictune, 59, was last seen at the Northward Apartment building on Noble Street.
  • 8/28/20 Doren Sanford, 35, was visiting Fairbanks in search of his dog when he mysteriously disappeared.
  • 11/13/20 Willis Derendoff, 34, was visiting from Huslia, staying at the Extended Stay Hotel when he became missing.
  • 1/9/21 Steven Hjelm, 54, was last seen leaving his sister’s house on 16th Avenue, walking towards a corner store on South Cushman.
  • 1/10/21 Brandy Haferman, 30, was reported missing after her family had not heard from her since late 2019; police last saw her in May 2020.

“I don’t think it would be too much, given the circumstances and the fear that our community is in, to call in the F.B.I., who have additional resources, funding, that might be available to work with troopers and Fairbanks Police on [a] task force,” community leader, Jody Potts said during the vigil. “But that ask has to come from local authorities. And so we are asking that you call in the F.B.I. to work with these families and on these cases.”

Acting Fairbanks Police Chief Rick Sweet says the Fairbanks Police Department is already speaking with the F.B.I. about these missing person cases but would need to talk to law enforcement partners before calling agents to come to investigate locally.

“That would be something that both I would get with the Alaska State Trooper, Captain Wall, and [Police] Chief Dutra of North Pole, and we could come together and say, what do we got going on? And do we need that national asset to come in?” Sweet said.

The vigil also called for better communication between law enforcement and the community.

“I would encourage the State troopers and the Fairbanks police department to be more transparent, share with the rest of us what’s going on here. Maybe by doing so, we may find a solution,” Steve Ginnis, the Executive Director for the Fairbanks Native Association, said.

Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly was in attendance and agreed to work with the Police Department to strengthen their communication lines.

“I know it can get frustrating because there is work you see and often times work you do not see, and that’s what we have to communicate with the public. If we come up against a brick wall, which does happen, we call on the community to help us,” Matherly said.

For the families of the missing, the vigil gives them hope that their loved ones are not forgotten.

“We are not giving up. We are still looking, we just started, but it’s getting bigger, and we know all of you are hurting for your family, and so are we. I just want to thank everybody for being here and helping us.” Lori Sears, the sister of Steven Hjelm, said.

In a previous interview related to the disappearances of Frank Minano, Debbie Nictune, Doren Sanford, and Willis Derendoff — Alaska State Trooper Sergeant Melvin Colley said the following:

“Based off of our investigations and information that we have on the four cases, they are not related to each other at all. And in each circumstance, none of them have a criminal nexus that we have been able to show in any of the four cases,” Colley said.

He went on to say that the troopers are continuing to follow any leads they have on the missing individuals: “I want the community to know that the Alaska State Troopers are following up on any possible leads that we have for the missing persons. We have followed up on many, and we will follow up on any that we have to find out if they are credible. So if you hear anything, or see any of the people that are missing, if you could give us a call and let us know, we will certainly go check it out.”

We will follow up on these missing person cases over the next week.

If you have any information on any of these people, you can contact the Alaska State Troopers at 451-5100 or the Fairbanks Police Department at 450-6500.

*UPDATE: Jonathan Nakarak, 17, was found 1/27/20 after an anonymous tipster notified the Alaska State Troopers that he stayed in Salcha. Officials say Nakarak was safe and in good health. He did not report any suspicious or concerning circumstances to authorities.

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