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Police tight-lipped on Alaska Coast Guard deaths

By Mary Pemberton

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 13 2012 3:44 p.m. MDT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Fear that a shooter was on the loose spread among residents of an island off Alaska's mainland Friday, with no suspect identified more than 24 hours after someone shot and killed two Coast Guard members at a communications station.

"We don't have stuff like that happen here," said Wendy Cavender, a bartender at the B&B bar in Kodiak, a city about eight miles from the Coast Guard base on Kodiak Island. "All anybody knows is that there is a shooter and that person might still be at large."

People in town weren't being told enough about what happened, and that was making residents jumpy, Cavender said. Many were on the verge of arming themselves.

"I just think they need to release all the information they have so people don't get crazy and paranoid, which might lead to violence," Cavender said.

The Coast Guard on Friday identified the two victims as Richard Belisle and Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins. Belisle was a retired Coast Guard chief petty officer working at the base as a civilian employee. Hopkins was an electronics technician. Their ages and hometowns were not immediately available.

The bodies were found Thursday morning shortly after the two would have arrived for work at the station that monitors radio traffic from ships and planes.

The FBI is treating the case as a double homicide, and no arrests have been made.

Law enforcement officials were being tight-lipped about the situation.

The FBI, the Coast Guard and the Alaska State Troopers were involved in the investigation, but Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters declined to provide information about the agency's involvement.

There was "no evidence to suggest that the community at large is in danger," Peters said. But, she said, "People should remain vigilant in being aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious activity to local law enforcement or state troopers."

Another Coast Guard member found the victims at their work areas inside the station, spokeswoman Sara Francis said. FBI agents flew to Kodiak Island from Anchorage, about 250 miles away.

"There is someone loose who murdered two people," said FBI spokesman Eric Gonzalez, who also said there was no indication other people on the island were in any immediate danger.

The city of Kodiak has about 6,300 residents and is the island's largest city.

The Coast Guard station is composed of a main building and several other buildings. Francis declined to say exactly where the killings occurred, citing Coast Guard policy about discussing ongoing investigations. The Kodiak Daily Mirror newspaper said the bodies were found inside one of the station's work buildings.

A Coast Guard official said the base remained on heightened security Friday. Military police were making more frequent drives around neighboring Peterson Elementary School and "keeping us on watch for the day," school secretary Cathy Wilson said.

There were numerous absences Friday at the school, but it was unclear how many were due to illness or the shootings, Wilson said.

The Coast Guard has sent crisis response teams to Kodiak.

"As an organization with roots in saving lives and a focus on protecting people, this tragic event has shocked us all," Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo said in a statement. "My thoughts and prayers are with the victim's families, their loved ones, and the entire Kodiak community."

Capt. Jesse Moore, commanding officer of the base on Kodiak, was to meet Friday with base personnel to discuss the shootings, said Petty Officer Chary Hengen.

"There is a sense of deep sadness here, not only in the town but at the Coast Guard base," she said. "A lot of us are not related to each other but we treat each other like a family."

Moore said the shootings likely occurred sometime between 7 and 8 a.m. He said he wasn't aware of any threats or anything else that might have indicated problems at the station.

The station is equipped with security cameras that cover the entire area, but it was not yet known if they captured any evidence, Moore said.

Francis said the rest of the roughly 60 enlisted personnel and civilians who work at the station have been accounted for.

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