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$25k reward, massive citywide search planned for Fairbanks’ missing persons

Published: Apr. 2, 2021 at 10:00 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -Over 50 people rallied near downtown Fairbanks Friday afternoon in hopes of spreading awareness of a massive missing persons search scheduled for this spring as the snow begins to melt.

“Each and every one of these individuals has brought some value to their village, each and every one of them. I think that’s important to note that as native people, our strength comes from unity,” Steve Ginnin, the Fairbanks Native Association Executive Director, said.

Unity. That was the message community leaders wanted to emphasize. Together we are stronger.

Families of the missing gathered in solidarity to both morn and uplift each other outside the Tanana Chief’s Conference building.

Families of missing persons, Frank Minano, Debbie Nictune, Doren Sanford, and Willis Derendoff, all spoke at the event.

Community members gather for a song and prayer at the opening of Friday's Missing Person rally.
Community members gather for a song and prayer at the opening of Friday's Missing Person rally.(Sarah Hollister)

“We find strength when we are together, today when I see your faces, it makes us stronger,” Roy Nictune, the brother of Debbie Nictune, said. “We have to keep going forward everyday thinking we are going to find her. Not just her but the rest of these people. We are going to stay together, and we are going to be strong. That’s the way we were taught in our Native way. We always help each other when people are going through hard times.”

Community Volunteer Coordinator Peter Captain Jr. said they are planning a giant city-wide search for all those missing in the Interior.

“Timing is crucial; right now, things are going to start melting, things are going to start re-appearing, and people are going to start checking old sheds and that they didn’t touch all winter,” Captain explained.

Captain has been in contact with many local organizations and the United States Army for help on the effort. He said they have been working with a professional search organization to plan the event. The search is expected to be a full weekend long and enlist the help of thousands of volunteers.

Gladys Derendoff gives a teary-eyed speech begging for help in bringing her missing son, Willis...
Gladys Derendoff gives a teary-eyed speech begging for help in bringing her missing son, Willis Derendoff, home to Huslia.(Sarah Hollister)

On top of a city-wide search, the group is collecting donations for a $25,000 reward for each missing person.

“We have been moving forward with making this reward fund, and we want to reach at least $25,000,” Captain said. “Then we want to ask our organizations to match that award fund after we make money.”

Captain said the reward is for the first person that comes forth with information leading to the arrest or information on the disappearance of missing people: Minano, Nictune, Sandford, or Derendoff. He said the $25,000 is on top of the rewards that the families have already raised for their loved ones.

Organizers of the event called on everyone in the community to help volunteer and donate financially.

“Regardless if you think anybody could be in there,” Captain added, “Please take that time to look in your shed and your porch, in your abandoned vehicle and your abandoned airplanes. Take that time in spring to really look around your property for suspicious things.”

“These families here today are heartbroken. They deserve closure,” Natasha Singh, the General Counsel for Tanana Chiefs Conference, said. “We are asking the community to meet their needs… We ask for your [financial contributions] we ask for your prayers and this spring… We ask for your volunteerism as we march through the community and look for loved ones.”

No search date has been chosen yet, but organizers say they plan on alerting the public through radio, social media, television, and the newspaper when a date is chosen.

Willis Derendoff's family asks for help in locating their missing loved one. A GoFundMe account...
Willis Derendoff's family asks for help in locating their missing loved one. A GoFundMe account was set up to help with travel expenses: https://gofund.me/c0729275(Sarah Hollister)

Peter Captain Jr. said they are working with Tanana Chiefs Conference to administer the reward fund. Anyone wanting to donate can contact Captain at (907)347-6679.

The Derendoff family has started a GoFundMe Account to help with stay and travel expenses for the search. Gladys Derendoff, Willis Derendoff’s mother, originally from Huslia, has not left Fairbanks since her son’s disappearance in November.

“I won’t give up on this. I wasn’t going to cry,” Gladys said tearfully. “I just really want my son back so we could go home with him, so we could have some rest because five months is a long time.”

Still Missing

According to the Troopers and the Fairbanks Police Department database, seven people have gone missing since August of 2020.

  • 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.
  • 10/9/20 Julia Rice, 17, was last seen leaving her foster parent’s house on Peridot Road in North Pole
  • 11/13/20 Willis Derendoff, 34, was visiting from Huslia, staying at the Extended Stay Hotel, and later became missing.
  • 3/19/21 Ernest Burggraf, 60, was last seen getting into his car after completing a work shift. His car was found unlocked with the keys in the ignition.

If you have any missing person information, you are asked to contact the Fairbanks Police Department at (907) 450-6500 or the Alaska State Troopers (907) 451-5100. Tips can remain anonymous.

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