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Rally highlights missing persons cases

Travis Cole with drum.jpg
Robyne
/
KUAC
Fairbanks Native Association Board of Directors member Travis Cole, right, drums in the meeting with a song. Over his shoulder are Fairbanks City Mayor, Jim Matherly, far left, and Fairbanks Police Deputy Chief of Police Richard Sweet.

A rally to remember five recently-missing persons in Fairbanks was held at the J.P. Jones Center on Thursday. It was organized to remember four people who have not been seen since 2020. But shortly before the event, a fifth person disappeared near town.

Drummer Travis Cole opened the rally with a couple of songs, evoking people who have not come home.

Shirley Lee, the Justice coordinator for Fairbanks Native Association, has been tracking missing persons cases, particularly for Native families, for years.

“There are a lot of missing persons cases in Alaska. Sad to say, as of yesterday, when I checked, there was 1,297 outstanding cases listed on the Troopers’ missing-persons clearing house database. Of those 84 were reported for Fairbanks,” she said.

Shirley Lee.jpg
Robyne
/
KUAC
FNA Justice Coordinator, Shirley Lee, addresses the rally for missing persons on Thursday, March 24.

Lee said that number is an improvement over last year, when the Fairbanks cases numbered 91.

The rally was organized by Fairbanks Native Association. Executive Director Steve Ginnis noted FNA has created a Justice Task Force, and is helping the families of four people who have been missing since 2020.

"Our whole effort here is to kind of keep these cases in the public awareness: Doron Sanford, Debby Nictune, Frank Minano and Willis Derendoff," he said.

Families talked about the human cost when someone disappears.

Niisha Walsh spoke about her cousin, Doren Sanford, who had just started his own remodeling company in Anchorage, and was visiting in Fairbanks when he went missing in August, 2020.

“Doren is very much loved and greatly missed. His family and friends want closure. We want to start our healing journey. We want the individuals responsible for Doren's whereabouts and disappearance to seek forgiveness and start their healing journey too,” she said.

Babes Hudson Lord said she believes her cousin, Frank Minano, was murdered in the summer of 2020, when his vehicle broke down on his way back to Nenana.

“Your murderers may have taken your last breath away, but we will find your Frankie. We will bring your home. We will find justice for you. We will take care of your grandchildren.

And a fifth family also spoke at the gathering – the brothers of Anthony Solomon, who just went missing in Fairbanks last weekend (Sunday, March 20.) Aaron and Alex Solomon wants the public to be working together, and had praise for the Justice Task Force.

“I'd just like to thank the Derendoff family, you know, they've been a big support for us. They came over and they helped us and showed us more of a direction of what we should do. You know, us working together. It makes me proud. And it should make all you guys proud, too,” he said.

Also at the event were the Fairbanks city mayor and police officials, the district attorney and Alaska State Troopers. Fairbanks Deputy Chief of Police Rick Sweet says improving relationships and communication will help solve missing persons cases.

“Uh, we understand that there's a barrier, uh, between, uh, police and some of the native people in Alaska. And, uh, we were trying to repair that,” Sweet said.

Alaska State Trooper Lt. Jess Carson has worked with several of the cases.

“The one thing we want to press is that we're in this together. We haven't been perfect. Sometimes we haven't even been good, but we're taking it seriously. These meetings have helped us improve some of our, the way we do things. And we still obviously have some holes that we need to improve,” he said.

The families have put up rewards, have organized searches and have social media pages about their missing loved ones.

Deputy Chief Sweet says he believes people know how to solve some of these cases and need to come forward.

“We ask continuously that we get that information. And again, we'll, we'll take it however we get it. So if you hear it on third hand, fourth hand, whatever that is, we want to hear it. So we can start putting some pieces of the puzzle together and maybe it's that one piece that leads us to break it open and figure out where, where they are,” he said.

More information about the cases is on the Fairbanks Native Association website, and on the City of Fairbanks website.

For more information about the Justice Task Force, contact Lee at slee@fairbanksnative.org or at 907-452-1648, extension 6033.