By MICHAEL DUXBURY
When the plea deal announced, I awoke at 3:30 am to get ready for work and saw the news: Ashley Johnson-Barr’s murderer pleaded guilty to killing the innocent 10-year-old girl in Kotzebue in 2018.
It is not a victory, and it’s not justice. But it is good to know that he, whose name doesn’t deserve acknowledgement here, will never get the opportunity to act out against the innocence of a young, vibrant, full-of-wonder, tender, vulnerable life again. 99 years is a sentence that ensures he cannot harm another little girl.
This was one of the worst and probably most impactful cases I was involved with in my career in the Department of Public Safety. At the time I was captain commander of Investigations. The cost alone of moving searchers investigators and equipment to Kotzebue for the Ashley Johnson-Barr case was close to $200,000, and if it hadn’t been for our partners in the Kotzebue Police, Search and Rescue, Anchorage Police Department, FBI, ATF, and U.S. Coast Guard, we wouldn’t have had the resources to accomplish the task of trying to find some sense of Justice for Ashley.
What is bothersome is the lack of awareness within the community of Kotzebue and also in many villages about all the real tangible and noticeable warning signs that lead up to this tragic gruesome devastating taking of a life.
“Human behavior pattern recognition analysis” informs us that we must see law enforcement as much more than piecing together, to tell the story for prosecution the devastation of criminal predatory exploitation.
Being able to convict a person has become the fallback or a sign that law enforcement has done a good job.
It is no such thing.
The vulnerability of others exploited by the criminal creates an aftermath that negatively impacts communities and tears the fabric of our social structure to create dysfunction for generations.
As a profession, we need to stop sitting on our hands and become much more than society’s “Spill on Aisle 2” janitors. We need to become radically collaborative and truly proactive. We need to teach, prepare, and protect by engagement and interaction with the communities we serve.
Authority and enforcement as our main go-to tools fall far short of our oath that we will, with our training, education, and experience, do what others cannot do, what others will not do, and what others should not do in service to the public.
Thank you to all who brought your talents to bear in searching for young Ashley, in investigating and enduring the horror of the scene and prosecuting the case.
May we honor this young life by being more interactive and forward-leaning, in hopes of stemming domestic abuse, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and sexual abuse in our state.
Michael Duxbury is a retired deputy commissioner of Public Safety and affiliated with UAA’s Arctic Domain Awareness Center as an executive counselor.