Melissa Jack, right, of Kotzebue, right, stands with her daughter, Ashlyn, and Dorothy Zura during a candlelight vigil for Ashley Johnson-Barr on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Melissa Jack, right, of Kotzebue, right, stands with her daughter, Ashlyn, and Dorothy Zura during a candlelight vigil for Ashley Johnson-Barr on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Dozens gather in Juneau to honor deceased Kotzebue girl

Organizers hope vigil for Ashley Johnson-Barr leads to action in wake of tragic death

Shakira Vallejo held her 2-year-old daughter in her arms as she talked about reading the news.

Ashley Johnson-Barr, a 10-year-old Kotzebue girl, was found dead Friday after going missing Sept. 6. When Vallejo read about it, she said it immediately affected her.

“I was heartbroken for her family, her parents,” Vallejo said. “I definitely hug my daughter a little tighter.”

Vallejo was one of more than 100 people who stood outside the Andrew Hope Building on Monday night for a candlelight vigil in Johnson-Barr’s honor. The attendees stood in a circle, many of them holding their young children just as Vallejo was.

Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska held the event, along with Sacred Grounds Coffee Shop and the Sealaska Corporation. CCTHITA President Richard Peterson and Tribal Court Presiding Judge Debra O’Gara spoke to begin the ceremony, which culminated in a minute-long moment of silence.

Frances Andrews, who works at the CCTHITA Tribal Court, emceed the vigil. Just prior to the moment of silence, she said she hopes the next step is people taking action.

“I want everybody in this circle today to recognize that the silence is heard for her family, but what we do afterwards, I hope you leave here with a roar inside your heart and a roar inside what you do,” Andrews said to the crowd.

One way to help, Andrews said, is to go to Sacred Grounds — the coffee shop in the Andrew Hope Building — this week. All of the shop’s proceeds in the next few days, O’Gara announced, are going to go to Johnson-Barr’s family. The shop will also be accepting donations for at least the near future, Andrews said.

Peterson spoke at length about not allowing acts of violence against women and children become normal.

Both he and O’Gara said people need to become more vocal and assertive in their denouncement of violence in the household and in general. O’Gara said that whether that takes the form of a Facebook post, a letter to the editor or casting a ballot, people need to make their voices heard.

Kotzebue man Peter Wilson was charged with making false statements to police about Johnson-Barr. FBI Special Agent Michael Watson said in an affidavit released Monday that it appears Johnson-Barr was murdered, but the investigation is still open. Details of Johnson-Barr’s disappearance and death sounded familiar to many of the attendees.

Christina Love, a recovery and reentry advocate in Juneau, brought up Lori Dee Wilson, a Juneau woman who disappeared in 2016 and has not been found.

Ruth Gentry, who lives in Juneau but is originally from Kake, was in attendance because she can relate to how Kotzebue residents feel. In 2013, 13-year-old girl Mackenzie Howard was killed in Kake and the community was shaken deeply.

“We’re from a small village, so we know how this feels,” Gentry said, “with a family going through this and we want to support them.”

O’Gara expressed similar sentiments, saying Monday night’s vigil was for victims across the state and beyond.

“We’re standing in a circle to be stronger and to remember not just Ashley but all those others who are still missing, or who have been senselessly murdered and abused,” O’Gara said.

Jessie Wright an events and catering assistant for CCTHITA, was the first to come up with the idea for a vigil. Wright has a 10-year-old daughter, in addition to children of 4 and 12 years old, she said.

Wright reached out to Johnson-Barr’s father on Facebook, she said, and asked him for permission to have an event in his daughter’s honor. She also invited him to the Facebook event, she said, so he can see the photos, videos and sentiments that people share in the group.

Wright explained this to the dozens of people standing outside the Andrew Hope Building on Monday. As she spoke, Wright presented her candle, which was halfway burnt down.

“This was the first candle lit,” Wright said, “and I plan to keep it lit until it’s gone.”


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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