Statement of Edie Grunwald at Austin Barrett sentencing - Must Read Alaska
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Statement of Edie Grunwald at Austin Barrett sentencing

The entire statement of Edie Grunwald, to the court on Nov. 20, 2020, prior to the sentencing of Austin Barrett in the kidnapping that ended in the November, 2016 murder of Edie’s son, 16-year-old David Grunwald:

Judge Heath,

First, thank you and the district attorneys, the troopers, friends, and community members for sticking with us throughout this ordeal. The past four years have been miserable.  Three trials, and two plea deals later and on the anniversary of David’s murder – tomorrow – Nov 13th 2016, here we are.  I appreciate everyone’s diligence and considerations.  None of this has been easy.  Yet, I recognize how truly exceptional the District Attorney, Mr. Roman Kalycheck and Ms. Melissa Howard have been in their jobs along with Alaska State Trooper Tony Wegzryn and his team.  Judge Heath, we recognize you have been very careful and protective of the rights of all involved.  

As you might imagine, as David’s parents, we are crushed to our cores.  Our hearts and soul have been drained over what our son had to endure the last couple of hours of his life.  He was confused, hurt, in pain, crying, not understanding what or why these four guys were doing to him.  He just wanted to hang out a little bit before heading home – get a little “guy time.”  He went to the little bathroom, they held the door closed – Come on, stupid joke.  The door opened and he felt his skull scream – over an over, trying to protect himself, he put his arms up – getting hit and bloody – crying – why, stop, hearing laughter and hateful words – why? Please stop.  Feeling pulled and lifted and dragged to his Bronco, hearing whispers of guns, killing, getting pushed into the back seat between and caught – then asked where are the keys – take the keys, my wallet, anything, in and out of consciousness, yet coherent enough to know where he was and ask to be let out near his girlfriends house. 
David had entered the devils’ lair and had no idea what was in store for him.  Ben and I think and weep about our son getting pistol whipped and his ride to his death.  “Take my Bronco, my wallet, anything…”  sitting in his own vehicle being lied to, his cell phone being broken and tossed out the window, “he won’t be needing this any longer.”  Driving slowly 40-60 minutes – a long, long time for any one of these guys to change the course of everyone’s lives….  But stuck to the plan…. Finally stopping, pulling David out of his own vehicle, walking him deep into the woods with a sweatshirt and slippers on.  I wonder how he was able to keep those slippers on, maybe he thought he would need them.  It wasn’t an easy walk through the snow, trees, brush… David’s life, thoughts of his parents, his future, his friends, his mistake in deciding to go hang out a little bit before going home.  Dear God.

The group stops, David looks up – I see, feel, hear the click of the trigger, instant noise and searing blackness with white dots.  David’s soul is no longer in his body.  He might be watching these guys run off, he might see his slipper that came off his foot at that point.  Then again, the blackness, the loss, the vacancy of his body laying there in the sub-zero weather, light snow falling, treetops – empty of leaves, the dark sky with a few starts peeking through and moon light casting shadows…quiet, nothingness. They left his beaten, broken and brain-blasted body there, an empty shell, slowly oozing what gravity is pulling out.  No heart beat, no breath, no life.  They ran away with the intent of no one ever finding him as his body quickly cooled down, froze and frost bite settled in.

With adrenalin pumping, excitement, they proceeded to get rid of the evidence.

This was not supposed to happen.  David was supposed to be home at 9:20 that night.  To some, that might seem a bit strict or even odd.  We had curfews, we had trust, we had love, hopes, dreams, chores, homework, errands, plans along with school the next day.

Before David left to drive his best friend/girlfriend home, he made me promise to pick up his new down hill skiis that we had his boots mounted on – while he was at school.  He wanted to drive my new Jeep that night – oh, so bad!!!  David helped me pick it out and I considered letting him drive that evening and even riding in the back seat, but figured – oh, he’ll have lots of opportunities to drive it.

Expressing this out loud – is a must – we have to be David’s voice.  Victims often get lost in the judicial system.  They get even more victimized during the judicial process.  The defense attorneys, the defense families and their friends, the media – some who have jumped and mischaracterized our son’s actions and involvement. Yet, during the course of the trials, it came out that David was a good kid and not part of this group.  Even though in one of the interviews, it was explicitly stated that this was NOT over smoking “all of their weed” – the media took the comment out of context and ran with it.  Locals ran with it and took down David’s “Remember me” signs replacing it with “blaming marijuana” signs.  I have come to despise the assumptions people make which has made me more aware of my own assumptions and backing away to get a bigger view and understanding – not just for my son’s horrific experience – but relationships, politics, and more. 

When David didn’t call or show up at 9:20 p.m., we knew something was wrong.  I tried calling him several times, left messages.  Then I called Victoria to ask what time he left and where he might have been headed.  We then called Eric, Eric’s father, even Devin Peterson at Eric’s father recommendation.  Victoria started reaching out to all sorts of people for information and each of these vicious group members lied and mislead her, us, the troopers.  The troopers even questioned us because of what they were saying.  We had to write a letter describing David and that he was not a runaway and had no desire to go off the grid – lies given by this group.  

All night on the 13th on November, David’s father and I drove around looking for evidence of breaking down, sliding off the road… anything…  Stopped at the trooper station and they said they would look around. 

The next day we got word that David’s Bronco was found burned – way across town, behind Wasilla on a trail.  Instant fright, horrific scenes played out of David being burned to a crisp leading to scenes of David out there in those woods somewhere – people searching everywhere. 

At this point, people came from all over as we started searching for our 16-year old son imagining all sorts of horrific and even hopeful situations!  All the while, the deranged group were partying, lying, going about their lives. 

During this time, the troopers, family, trackers, US Marshal, search and rescue groups, private investigators, drones, horses, dogs, a helicopter – community members, our military family, our church family, our neighbors – everyone searched.  This went on for 19 days – Then… I had to ask the dentist for David’s dental records (David’s dentist for all of his life – they were invested).  We had to give DNA samples.  Hope slowly drained.  The realization that the love and light of our lives is more than likely gone pushed us way down. 

Dec 2nd, around 4 p.m. the trooper showed up.  I didn’t move from the couch.  Didn’t want to listen, or even know.  The words:  “We   found   David.”

The devastation, sadness, disbelief, need to regroup and try to think what’s next.  It’s interesting the details that tend to derail the big picture – but it all adds up.  The shock numbed me, tricked me…  I heard “we got the bad guy.”  Okay… but we don’t have our son.   “There are more involved.”  More?  Then on the eve of a massive vigil for David, the others were arrested – including Austin Barrett.

Our nights have been sleepless, plagued with nightmares and waking yelling.  Then and even now.  Each time a hearing, a motion, a court date – we live it all over.

Our district attorneys worked hard, hard, hard with answering motions, filing motions, preparing for the trials, and working for the best possible outcomes – including what’s left with this plea deal for Austin Barrett.  It’s too bad we are left with this – but we have it. 

I joined the active duty Air Force in 1984 and come to Alaska on my first duty station.  I have given up so much and invested so much for my state and country.  I officially retired Sept 2015 planning to spend my time with David, get him through high school – his high school of choice:  MatSu Career and Tech.  He applied for the 9th grade and was supposedly #1 on the wait list.  My awesome neighbors have two kids who have been extremely successful at Colony, so we figured, this might work out.  David worked hard.  He disliked the noise and crowds at Colony, but he liked certain subjects and we worked with the staff and kept in contact with the teachers to learn and advance.  

School is one opportunity to learn.  During my career, I took David on many trips and exposed him to many different experiences – we called them “field trips.”  We went to science centers, zoos, visited family, tried new foods, different cultures.  I brought him to base, introduced him all sorts of activities, leaders, even the dining facility, climbing wall, bowling, golfing, family days, family programs events, air shows – he would take his hat off with his hand over his heart for the National Anthem.  He attended many military events, ceremonies, pinned my promotions, and was the camera guy for a retirement ceremony.  Those who worked with me enjoyed it when David joined in.  He may not have always been compliant – an independent thinker, but he respected authority and was very proud of his parents and his connection to the military.

David built his own computer.  He was a Lego-maniac and built projects years beyond his age group.  David was a master at MineCraft with a logistics company that employed several hundred.  David like aviation.  David was very excited about his future and would often catch me, jumping up and down – aske me… what should I do?  What will it be like?  Tell me. Tell me.  I wan to know. I would smile at his enthusiasm.

David attended Space Camp and Aviation Camp at NASA in Huntsville, Alabama each summer except one summer.  This one summer – the plan was set to go, but he failed English.  A kid has to be held accountable.  English was difficult for him in the 9th grade, no book, lots to keep up with… it happens.  Summer School was amazing.  The teacher was incredible with David, he loved it and got an A.  He was able to attend summer camp at Solid Rock Bible Camp, which he totally enjoyed each summer.  

Tenth grade at Colony seemed to go fine, in addition he applied again to MatSu Career and Tech and was accepted for the 11th grade.  This summer, 2016, David attended his Mach 4 Aviation camp in Huntsville and enjoyed it tremendously. We had a family reunion, we were able to spend time with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, great uncles and great aunts from Louisiana, Mississippi, Washington DC, and Virginia.  David then attended Solid Rock Bible Camp, enjoying his water sports.  We got a call one evening and David told us his news:  he accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior.

David was our only biological child, one whom I prayed for and was blessed with.  He was God’s child.  He attended a Montessori pre-school, then attended Anchorage Christian School for Kindergarten, he went with me to Alabama and attended Alabama Christian Academy for the 1stgrade.  He played soccer, took karate, played basketball, attended military events, made friends, we went to church Wed and Sunday.  We experienced tornadoes, a hurricane, flooding, insects.  David had a parakeet named Zeeke who would hang out on his shoulder.  We tried golfing, canoeing – made the best of this field trip. We topped it off with a miserable hot trip to Disney World. Wait, the best part:  a deep sea fishing trip in the gulf of Mexico for Red Fish with me and his Aunt M.L.

Back at Anchorage Christian School for the 2nd – 4th grades, then after moving to the Valley, we homeschooled for two years.  David went to Washington DC/Virginia with me for a three-month tour where he was in a co-op home school.  David was the child who built and flew paper airplanes at the talent contest. Field trips consisted of a train ride to NY with me and his grandma, going to visiting all of the historical sites in Washington DC, with the Museum with dinosaurs being his favorite, well maybe next to the aviation museum.  He enjoyed the soft hot dog from a street vendor.  We got a tour of the White House.  We visited our state legislators there.  We met George Washington.  A favorite was being able to hit a new release movie for 1st showing.

I would like to note that we spent time with extended family at every opportunity – every trip.  It’s important to do this when we live so far away.  When David’s sister was accepted into the Coast Guard Academy, we all went.  We checked out the Academy, checked out Connecticut and went to Boston and explored the history there with his Aunt Cheri.

We all have mourned and mourned and grieved and grieved.

Thinking back 1999- When I found out that I was truly pregnant – 37 years old…  dreams, joy, excitement was tremendous.  Ben and I made the best of every moment the pregnancy.  The older kids were very excited and looked forward to having a baby brother (or sister).  Ben had a great sense of humor (I say had, because it has diminished since all of this) – David also had a sense of humor – a bit quirky and silly, but he had me as a mom.  He always seemed to keep a smile on our faces.  And apparently, he also used his humor with his friends and sometimes his teachers.  After home school for two years, David was picked up at Academy Charter.  Great School, staff, teachers – hands on with lots of field trips: to McCarthy and even to China! David decided he wanted to try a different math class, so sat in a class that he was not assigned to.  It took a while for the teacher to pick up on this, and all of the students got a kick out of it.  I’m told that to this day the kids “pull a David” by sitting in classes they are not assigned to.  I had an assignment to Hawaii and brought David as a field trip.  He had to journal and capture everything on his IPAD.  We would drive past this nuclear-looking plant every day.  While I was at his school afterwards, one of the teachers asked me about how David “saved” the nuclear plant.  He cracked all of us up at times.   

I would tuck David in most nights and would pray over him. Our Father, we pray to you tonight to keep David safe, give him good dreams, let him wake up healthy and happy.  I prayed for his future wife and children.  We were very protective, taught David how to be alert and aware of his surroundings.  Who would’ve guessed that I was even worried about meningitis? And even more far-etched – who would have guessed dangers such as vicious, hateful violence from those around his own age were a threat. 

Thinking about all of that now is very difficult. Those were the days when we could watch over him, protect him and keep him safe. No public bathrooms, don’t talk to strangers, don’t open the door, question everything.  But, as you and every other parent knows and understands, all children have that unforgivable habit of growing up. 

Weekends were filled with chores, recreation, church, French toast, bacon burgers, visiting with friends, skiing, biking, fishing, playing games on the computer, researching his ideas.   We had a wonderful life, David was deeply loved and while he did not have everything he wanted – his Christmas and Birthday lists were always fun and off the charts. We were teaching and guiding him to be a problem solver and a leader.

Our lives seem to be divided into two parts- One: when David was alive and two, after his death.  As I say this, the acrid taste in my mouth forms and the acid builds in my stomach…sixteen. He was barely three months into the 11th grade and all he wanted to do was graduate from MatSu Career Tech.  David would have graduated 2018, but here we are 2020 and David should be turning 21 in January – but he will never have another birthday.  No 17, no 18, no 19…  Yet, his murderers continue to have birthdays, life, friends, contact with family, cable TV, options and choices.  David will never get a 2nd chance – ever.  Which leads me to saying that these particular murderers should not have a second chance.  They need to bear the consequences of their actions.  What they did was heinous.  David had no junior and no senior year, no more downhill skiing, mountain biking, building a business, no more options as his body is deteriorating six feet under surrounded by honorable and patriotic military members – the closest he can ever get to being in the military.  David’s life is all gone – in an instant, no warning.  Just gone.     

To this day, it is difficult – this can’t be happening, I am stuck in a horrible nightmare but again, the unrelenting truth does not allow a moment to breathe. What many people do not understand is that this is a forever thing.  It’s is the new normal.

Our older son, who is special needs has had a very difficult time with all of this – just terrible on his physical and mental health. He did not want to get on Zoom, but wanted me to share a few things:

Alaska should start a Scared Straight program.  I wish to decrease situation like what happened to David as much as possible.

If the Scared Straight Program is not immediately feasible, some kind of program should happen to show young people that gang-banging is NOT cool.

I hope the four perpetrators get sent to the most terrible prison possible so they can learn the hard way where gang-banging gets you.

Many of David’s friends and class-mates and others have been horrified at what has occurred.  These crimes have had a tsunami effect across our lives, community and nation.

One of David’s best friends, Levi, and Levi’s father, Matt are devastated from what has happened.  David spent a lot of time at their house and David loved helping Matt work on his airplane and learning everything he could from Matt.  Matt was a computer technician and David loved Matt.  1st, Matt saw David’s bright future, his interest in science and tech, how he was a good friend, his contributions to his community.  Matt wants to give David honor. 2nd, the actions of Austin Barrett took all of that away. Matt saw how it affected me and Ben and his own sons Levi and Lewis, close friends, Victoria, Gus, Isaac, and Jamus. Months after the murder Levi was suicidal, his entire world flipped upside down, still to this day he is unable to really talk about David and what happened and is forever affected by the brutal and vile actions of the people that took David from us.

3rd, Justice.  What is justice?  It is an attempt by the government to punish wrong doers or an attempt to make things fair?  In the case of a stolen car or burned home, justice could be punishment for those actions and restitution to replace the car of the home.  But, what justice could possibly be served for taking someone’s life, someone’s child and someone’s friend? Nothing AB can do will bring David back – so that leaves us with punishment.  What lawful punishment could possibly come close to bringing forth justice?  AB continues to draw breath, but David does not.  The system of government comes to AB’s aid in a plea bargain, but people who knew David are not heard.  David is not heard.  We get a short statement from the victims as opposed to weeks of statements defending AB.  We believe that there is a God in heaven that knows what justice is because He defines it. He knows exactly what AB did and exactly the penalty due – and there is no escape from it.

David has many aunts and uncles, but because we are limited to statutory defined victims, David’s Aunt Katherine’s sentiments reflect the sentiments of all David’s family and it is applicable and comes from me, David’s mother. It is only a few minutes long describes a bit more about the impact on us. [Plays recording].

Next up is my mother, David’s grand-mother.  She is 80 years old and she has lived through many, many horrific times: her first husband, my father was murdered; she was victimized, beat nearly to her death on numerous occasions by a 2nd husband, lost a few babies to child birth and miscarriages.  But this – what has happened to her grandson has taken her wind and her health and has been the most difficult thing in her life to deal with. 

Our Daughter Patricia may speak.  I am not sure what she will share.  I have protected her and her brother through all of this.  I do know that her baby brother’s murder has left her deeply scarred.  

My sister, Cheri, who has been a large part of David’s life will speak and then Ben, David’s father will speak.

I would like to end this victim impact statement with a “thank you for keeping this sentencing on the calendar and following through.”  This sentencing is very different from the other three and should be the easiest.  Everyone has worked tremendously hard, with lots of heartache to get to this point. 

I thank everyone who stops me and gives me hugs and reaches out, follows David’s story, those who have shared artwork and were a part of David’s life.

I condemn the murderers.  I do not support any type of early release whether it be discretionary parole, furlough, EM – and it is my preference that the community be kept safe from such deranged and heinous crimes.  There is extreme condemnation from across this land for these crimes.  Our safety, security and trust have been derailed. 

Thank you, Judge Heath, please accept this plea deal.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Heartbreaking personal emotions expressed by a wonderful lady who has seen the worst that evil can produce. Edie and Ben lost the most precious gift God gives, a child, to evil. You can never know the pain of losing a child unless you have experienced it yourself, but to have to face the evil violence Satan delivered in the mindless, violent death of David is exceptionally cruel. I wish Edie and Ben peace as they move forward, knowing that three other bastards still need to be sent to prison for their execution of their son.

  • May the killers rot in prison. Their parents can come and visit them and watch them shrivel up into little old men with no souls.

  • Craig’s got it. These days people don’t like to equate punishment with criminal justice. But its a necessity.

  • And a light sentence. Send a better message and give him what he gave out. Too lenient courts.

  • That was very difficult to read. I hope the family of David can get some peace.
    .
    I also hope the murderers rot in prison until they are dead, then rot in hell for an eternity.

  • Maybe the judge should have released him on probation on the condition he permanently reside in the valley. And then in order to protect the Victim’s family members and their friends provide the perps physical address to them. Just so they could protect themselves of course.

  • Every one of the perpetrators should have had the death sentence applied…but Alaska’s legislators condone evil of all sorts by not giving appropriate sentences and not having the death penalty. None of these animalistic criminals should ever see the light of day/freedom again. They should not get parole. They should be in solitary confinement, with no TV or any privilege until they die naturally.

  • I can’t express in words what this whole process must be like for this wonderful family but be thankful that your son lived a wonderful exciting life filled with adventure, although way too short it was a blessed life. God Bless this family.

  • Solitary will be a blessing, after they find out what the prison population will do to them. No parole.
    Our prayers have been and will be with you Edie and family.

  • It could’ve been my son. My nephew. The kids in my youth group. Any one of the young men in my life could’ve been David.

    God help us all.

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