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Mysterious Death of Alaska Native Teen Stuns City

The death of Alaska Native teen Mackenzie Howard is being investigated as a homicide. The community of Kake and her family is reeling from the loss.

She loved basketball and dreamed of one day attending Baylor University to be like her inspiration, Brittany Griner, a senior there, reported KCAW Radio. She also loved to read and was a straight A student according to the Juneau Empire.

But all those dreams were cut short when 13-year-old Mackenzie H. Howard, an Alaska Native from the City of Kake, walked on earlier this month. She was discovered February 5 at the Memorial Presbyterian Church in Kake.

Her death, which is being investigated as a homicide, hit the family and the community of Kake, a city of about 600, very hard.

Candlelight vigils were held in various communities across the state on Friday, February 8 to commemorate her life.

Mackenzie’s father, Clifton “Kip” Howard, told KCAW that good memories are what he and his family are holding onto while they wait to find out what happened to her.

He related a story about a road trip to Klawock when she played basketball on an all boys team against another all boys team.

“I was sitting on the bench, and she was playing defense, I think, and the kid ran her over, and then stepped on her and trampled on her,” Kip Howard told KCAW. “My first reaction was, I jumped off the bench, and I took two steps toward the court, and then I stopped. I looked back at my wife, and I told her, ‘These bleachers need seatbelts.’ And my baby got right up off the floor and continued playing as hard as she was.”

The night Mackenzie didn’t come home he went searching for her with a handheld floodlight.

“That was the most terrible feeling I’ve had,” he said. “And then I got the call.”

Mackenzie was a seventh-grader at Kake City School and left behind three brothers and five sisters. Her father is the fire chief in Kake, captains the city’s search-and-rescue boat and runs the water plant. Her mother, Marla Howard is a former store employee and school secretary; both are active community members and volunteers, report the Juneau Empire.

“She was always laughing,” Mackenzie’s older half-sister Miranda James-McGraw, 22, told the Juneau Empire. “She had a huge goofy personality, she could brighten anyone’s day. She would always brighten my day.”

Mackenzie was discovered after a memorial was held February 5 for Tlingit elder and board member of the Sealaska Corporation, Clarence Jackson Sr., who walked on January 31. She had helped with the preparations for the memorial, which many people came to Kake to attend, making the investigation a bit more arduous.

“There have been a lot of people that’ve since left,” Alaska State Trooper spokesperson Beth Ipsen told Anchorage Daily News soon after Mackenzie was found. “And that’s another thing—we have people we have to track down.”

Neither the Alaska Bureau of Investigations nor the Alaska State Troopers have yet to release many details concerning their investigation into Mackenzie’s death.

“A homicide and murder are two entirely different things,” Ipsen said in an email to KTUU Channel 2. “We just were able to rule out that she killed herself or died due to an accident. It’s a matter of process of elimination.”

Neither organization wants to release too much information to the public.

“We feel that any information we put out could potentially hamper our investigation,” Alaska State Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters told KTUU.

A memorial service for Mackenzie will be held this Friday at the Kake Community Hall at 7 p.m. A funeral service will be held at the same location on Saturday at noon.

“It’s really helping them through it, and you can’t imagine all the support and love that’s pouring out from all of Alaska,” Kake Mayor Henrich Kadake told KTUU of all the services and vigils in honor of Mackenzie and how they are helping her family.

“Our communities and our culture values the support of one another in a time of loss, and so there’s a natural tendency to want to group and gather and want to be with one another,” Sealaska Vice President and Corporate Secretary Nicole Hallingstad told the Juneau Empire.