Less info means more fear after Coast Guard deaths

By Mary Pemberton

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 13 2012 6:15 p.m. MDT

This June 27, 2011 photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins, far left, and Richard Belisle, lower right, are joined by other unidentified workers as they help erect a communications antenna on Shemya Island, Alaska, After more than 24 hours, no suspect has been identified after someone shot to death the two men at a Coast Guard communications station on Kodiak Island off Alaska's mainland .

U.S. Coast Guard, Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Fear that a killer 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 to death two people at a Coast Guard 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."

The rest of the roughly 60 enlisted personnel and civilians who work at the communications station have been accounted for, Coast Guard spokeswoman Sara Francis said. That's a small fraction of the estimated 4,000 Guardsmen, families and civilian employees at the Kodiak Island base, the service's largest in the nation.

People coming on base — including known cab drivers bringing people there — have to show photo identification to guards to gain access. Visitors are usually provided escorts while on base.

The lack of information about what happened was making residents jumpy, said Cavender, whose bar is popular with fishermen. 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, 51, lived in Kodiak and was a retired Coast Guard chief petty officer working at the base as a civilian employee. Hopkins, 41, was an electronics technician from Vergennes, Vt.

Another Coast Guard member found the victims Thursday morning shortly after the two would have arrived for work at the station, which monitors radio traffic from ships and planes.

FBI agents flew to Kodiak Island from Anchorage, about 250 miles away, and are treating the case as a double homicide.

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

Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters declined to provide information about the agency's involvement in the case but said there was no indication of public danger. "People should remain vigilant in being aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious activity to local law enforcement or state troopers," she said,

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.

Kodiak is the island's largest city, with about 13,000 residents in the area.

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.

The station is equipped with security cameras that cover the entire area, but it wasn't known if any evidence had been captured.

Capt. Jesse Moore, commanding officer of the base on Kodiak, said he wasn't aware of any threats or anything else that might have indicated problems at the station.

In their jobs with the Coast Guard, Belisle and Hopkins were involved with the installation, maintenance, repair and management of electronic equipment. Work they did with 11 other people last summer installing communication antennas on the remote Alaska island of Shemya was featured in a Coast Guard blog.

A woman who answered the phone at the Belisle home Friday identified herself as a family friend said the family was not commenting. Attempts to reach Hopkins' family were not immediately successful.

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."

Moore was to meet Friday with base personnel to discuss the shootings, Petty Officer Charly Hengen said.

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

Associated Press writer Mark Thiessen in Anchorage and researcher Barbara Sambriski in New York contributed to this report.

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