Missing Palmer teen was beaten, shot to death

ANCHORAGE — A missing Palmer teenager was pistol-whipped by an acquaintance, driven to a remote location and shot to death, according to an Alaska State Trooper investigating the case.

Erick Almandinger, 16, is charged as an adult with first-degree murder and kidnapping in the death of David Grunwald, 16, whose body was found Friday by troopers acting on a tip by another teen.

Grunwald, a student at Mat-Su Career and Technical High School, failed to return home after dropping off his girlfriend Nov. 13. His father just before midnight that night called troopers and said the boy, driving a 22-year-old Ford Bronco, was three hours overdue.

Grunwald’s father reported his son may have met Almandinger to give him a ride to Anchorage.

A passer-by on Nov. 14 found David Grunwald’s burned Bronco west of Wasilla. There was no sign of the driver.

Troopers could not immediately find Almandinger, but they caught up with him Nov. 16. He denied seeing Grunwald the night he disappeared and said he had taken a cab to Anchorage.

Troopers determined he was lying, said Sgt. Tony Wegrzyn in the criminal complaint. Cellular data from Almandinger’s mobile tablet indicated it had been near Grunwald’s SUV the night it burned. Troopers also found a cabdriver who had picked up Almandinger and another teen near the SUV.

Wegrzyn on Nov. 29 obtained a search warrant for Almandinger’s home and found a camper trailer that smelled of bleach. Investigators found blood inside on the floor, walls and toilet.

On Friday, Wegrzyn interviewed an acquaintance of Almandinger who said the youth and another 16-year-old, “D.J.,” showed up at his door Nov. 13. Almandinger said he had killed Grunwald and needed advice. The acquaintance sent them away.

Wegrzyn later that day interviewed “D.J.” The youth consulted with an attorney and provided directions to Grunwald’s body. The remains were found 200 feet off Knik River Road southeast of Palmer. An investigator found one shell casing nearby.

Wegrzyn then interviewed Almandinger with his father and grandmother present. At first, Wegrzyn said, he again said he knew nothing of Grunwald’s death. When confronted, however, Almandinger said Grunwald had come to his house to drink and smoke pot in the camper. While doing so, he told the investigator, “D.J” texted him to bring a gun to the trailer. He said he handed a .40-caliber handgun to the other youth, who used it to bludgeon Grunwald.

Almandinger said he accompanied “D.J.” as the other youth loaded Grunwald into the Bronco, drove him to Knik River Road, picked out the spot to stop, walked Grunwald into the woods and shot him.

Almandinger said Grunwald pleaded for his life as they walked.

In a second recounting of the incident, Wegrzyn said, Almandinger blamed the shooting on another 16-year-old, “A.B.”

Almandinger acknowledged burning the Bronco miles away, catching a cab ride home, cleaning the trailer and burning a rug from the trailer that was covered in blood.

The only motive Wegrzyn could detect from Almandinger, the investigator said, was that Grunwald “had smoked all of his weed.” Almandinger showed little remorse for his actions, Wegrzyn said, but cried when told his friends had talked to police.

Almandinger was arraigned Saturday. He remained jailed Monday at Mat-Su Pretrial Facility. Assistant public defender Windy Hannaman said she could not comment on an open case.

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