Next of kin: how Alaska State Troopers notify family of the deceased

When a death happens in Alaska State Trooper jurisdiction, their job is to reach out to next of...
When a death happens in Alaska State Trooper jurisdiction, their job is to reach out to next of kin.(KTVF Archive)
Published: Jul. 9, 2023 at 10:21 AM AKDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - When tragedy strikes, someone has to deliver the news.

That’s where law enforcement come in. “I just open up with ‘I regret to inform you that your loved one, whatever relation it may be, has passed,’” said Sgt. Lee Bruce with the Alaska State Troopers (AST).

When a death happens in AST jurisdiction, their job is to reach out to next of kin, “whether that’s natural causes or homicide or drug overdose, anything that causes death or serious physical injury that might result in a death,” according to Lee.

If applicable, first the person’s spouse is contacted, followed by children, siblings, parents and other family, explained Lee. “We want to make sure that the family does not get the notification through Facebook or the news or anything like that.”

Troopers can often find the right people to contact in one or two days. Lee said this is because “a lot of times our troopers know the people that we’re dealing with because we have troopers who have grown up in the area and may have known the family members or the friends or what have you, and so they can make those notifications.”

Sometimes, however, finding next of kin can get complicated. “Sometimes the next of kin lives out of state, and so we have to do a little bit more digging,” he said, adding, “I think the longest that I’ve personally experienced is a couple weeks going through all the different information that we have about the person who has passed.”

This can involve using friends, neighbors and even social media.

Once the right person is found, then comes the knock at the door.

Most of the time, troopers will deliver the news in-person, according to Lee. “We want to make sure that the next of kin has somebody there, if there’s nobody in the home. We don’t know how they’re going to react, and it’s obviously an emotional time in their lives when they’re being notified that a loved one has passed.”

Making that announcement can weigh on a trooper. Lee explained, “It’s one of the hardest jobs as a trooper honestly. You’re notifying somebody that their loved one has passed and it can take an emotional toll.”

“It’s one of my least favorite things to do as a trooper, but it’s something that has to be done,” he said.

Reactions to the news vary, according to Lee. “I’ve been hugged. I’ve had people cry in my arms, and some people might be more clinical about it.”

After next of kin are informed, the name of the deceased goes public.