Copper River People Try To Come To Terms With Huge Manhunt – On Facebook

 Community Relieved As Mark Heinz Surrenders  Nobody thought it would end well. Especially when the SWAT teams and their armored tanks show...

 Community Relieved As Mark Heinz Surrenders 

Nobody thought it would end well. Especially when the SWAT teams and their armored tanks showed up and began roaming the Richardson Highway between Gakona Junction and Sourdough, looking for Mark.

When Mark Heinz hit Alaska's news feeds this week -- the subject of a massive manhunt -- all those who knew him (and that was a lot of people) were in shock. Copper Valley folks didn't know what to think as they tried to process the slim, confusing tale sent out by the Troopers on their press releases. 

Somehow, an early morning incident at Gakona Lodge had escalated. The Troopers described a shootout, with Mark firing at a Trooper, and the Trooper shooting back – and fortunately, nobody getting hurt. And then, after a reckless chase, Mark had jumped out of his vehicle and plunged into the woods near Sourdough. He had disappeared into the forest, at Mile 149 Richardson – with the temperatures due to drop to zero degrees that night.

People who had grown up with Mark Heinz, and his brother Fred E, and his other brother, Bill, were horrified. People who knew his parents, Pat and Fred Sr., were upset.

There was that awful photo of him; perhaps the worst DMV identification picture ever made. You could see that terrible portrait all over Alaska: on Alaska Public Media, in the Anchorage Daily News, on KTUU... It showed a "Mark Heinz" who was decidedly worrisome. 

Internet story on KTUU about capture of Mark Heinz on the Richardson. (KTUU website)

Mark Heinz:  "the suspect." Mark Heinz: "wanted" by the cops. Mark Heinz: with a gray, whispy beard, thinning hair, pale, wrinkled skin and squinty, suspicious eyes.  

For those who had known Mark, and his brother Fred E, and his parents, Pat and Fred Heinz -- and his long-dead brother Bill, and his sweet dead wife, Janet -- there were nothing but questions.  How had all this happened? How had Mark Heinz (their "Mark Heinz") ever found himself in this position… and would he even survive?

There's a Facebook site on the web called "If You Are From Glennallen Alaska, Remember When?"  The site is popular with people who still live in the region, and also with those who moved away long ago. The photos and postings show that human beings love their towns and cherish their pasts, no matter how humble.  Their memories of Glennallen, which was a decidedly difficult and rugged place back then, are, nevertheless, precious. The postings are unexpectedly touching.

Wrote Colt Radigan on October 14th, at 6:15 in the morning: "If you have any recordings of my father's voice that you could provide me I would be eternally grateful. I can not remember the man's voice… If his voice is not an option, I will settle for good stories. I thank you…"

These days, kids in the Copper River School District get a full meal through a reliable school lunch program. But it wasn't always like that.  

On May 23rd, at 1:03 in the morning, Sue Goble was thinking of a leaner, more difficult – yet still beloved –  time. She sat down to type a fond reminder to fellow Glennallen-ites about school lunch: "Do you remember when they used to roll the carts around… we had a box of raisins a week… we had a choice of pilot bread with either peanut butter or peanut butter and honey."

The incident with Mark Heinz pushed the "If You Are From Glennallen" website into overdrive. 

Someone posted a picture of a young, cheerful Mark, with brown, wavy hair and an impish smile, taken at his prom in 1978. "I will be praying for you Mark" it said. "Sure is sad," someone else responded. And another comment: "Pray he does not freeze to death…. May he surrender to law authority and everyone is safely at home tonight." Someone else wrote: "Mark and Billy were like brothers to me!" "I know him," wrote someone else. And someone else said, "My brother was telling me stories about going to school with him and his brothers earlier."

And then someone wrote: "Billy drowned years ago." It was so. Everybody knew Bill drowned terribly, on Summit Lake. His drowning was on the list of untimely deaths that Copper Valley people kept in their minds, as a running record of how easy it was to pass from this life to the next. Yet, memorable as it was, Bill's death, at only 20 years old in 1979, was just one of many drownings of many young men in the Copper Valley, as a succession of them succumbed to the region's deadly waters: Bill Heinz, Terry Speerstra, Mark Stiner, Gene White, Chuck Zimbicki … and there were more, following the pattern set during the Gold Rush a hundred years before, when young men drowned then, too – in lakes, rivers and streams all over this cold, watery, dangerous subarctic part of the world.

Back to good times: "Bill and I were best friends in high school," wrote someone. "He was so sweet and funny. I still miss him." Someone else wrote, "I did too. He was a sweetheart. I boarded out with them, and they were all like more big brothers!"

As they jotted down their Facebook postings, while the Mark Heinz of October, 2020 was still hiding out in the wilds, people began to talk about the obvious; about the grim realities of today.  "What you think made him do that?" asked one. "No idea. It's so sad." "Yes," commented somebody else. "He's had a hard time since his dad died," observed a friend. "Praying," said somebody. Another put up an emoticon with a single large teardrop. "Yes, very sad. Praying for a safe ending to the situation."

And then, back to a safer, happier past: "I remember when Fred and Pat first arrived in the valley, and all their little ones," wrote somebody. "'Good, hard working family."  Then, pulling into the awful present again: "We're hoping and praying for the best for Mark."

When Mark Heinz was finally caught, around three miles from his home at Gakona Junction, the photographs on KTUU were difficult for local people to process. Nobody had ever seen military vehicles like that on our roads, except when they ambled down the Richardson in a slow parade during Delta Junction's regular Fort Greely cold weather practice runs, like a harmless caravan of old circus elephants let out of their colorful wagons to get some exercise.

For the rest of the state of Alaska, this world shown on KTUU – the bright lights, the armored cars, the uniformed army-green, helmeted men, the haze of frosty exhaust fumes, and the background of the region's beloved tangle of twisted trees -- this was "the story" of catching a fugitive.

For local people, there was only confusion, and relief. Word finally came that Mark had been captured. And that he was still alive.


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