In January 2017, Michael "Mike" Chris was shot in the head outside of his home. Law enforcement has been investigating his death for months, but the case has been tough from the beginning.
First the Bethel Police Department considered his death a suicide. Now they’re investigating it as a murder and suspect that it was drug related. According to Bethel Police Department Sergeant Amy Davis, that might be keeping people quiet. People just aren’t telling the police what they know. In June, Chris’ family offered a $25,000 reward for any information about his death. “It didn’t bring one single call into the department,” Davis said.
Chris' family members have their own suspicions about what happened. He was a hard working father who struggled with a heroin addiction. In the weeks before his murder, his mother, Julie Carter, says that he was being threatened. It had something to with drugs, or drug money. She said that her daughter overheard a few of his phone calls.
"Priscilla told me something about people threatening him, local people here like a dealer," said Julie. "We know who that person is."
But for now, all the family can do is check in with the police about the investigation and wait.
On Wednesday, Chris’ family marked the anniversary of his death with a quiet funeral feast. His mother, Julie, had been cooking for days. "We have blueberry agutaq, cranberry agutaq, and salmonberry agutaq," she said, showing her guests around the kitchen.
The feast was hosted in the home of Chris' widow, Jackie Chris. She and their four children moved to the home after Michael Chris was shot in front of their old house; they didn’t feel safe in there any more.
The living room walls in the new house are lined with over a dozen certificates that Mike received through his work. The stairwell is lined with pictures. There are pictures of Mike in elementary school. Pictures of him in front of a palm tree in California. Pictures of Mike loading up his truck, with his son toddling after him. Michael Chris’s murder is still unsolved, but his family is doing whatever it can to make sure he is not forgotten.
Mike, Julie says, was the kind of person you called when your pipes froze. He was capable, worked constantly, and was her only son. "The only thing he had," she said with a pause, "was a bad habit."
Carter doesn’t know exactly when her son started using heroin, but she suspects he got hooked after a spinal injury. She said that doctors prescribed him heavy pain medication. She and Mike’s wife tried to get him help, but they couldn’t get him into an in-patient treatment program.
On the night of January 31, 2017, after receiving multiple threatening phone calls, Michael Chris told his wife he needed a cigarette. He got up and stepped out of the house. Then his teenage daughter, Angie, heard a gunshot.
"I thought it was like a pop outside or something else," she said. "I was taken aback when I heard it. I was thinking, 'it better not be my dad.' Just, no, he's in here. But I remembered I saw him going downstairs. So that's when I got scared. Then I heard my mom saying, ‘Mike! Mike! Mike!,’ and I got scared."
The family still struggles to recover. Julie Carter still can’t get over the Bethel Police Department’s initial determination that her son killed himself. She remembers walking into the police station and insisting that he’d been murdered.
"The officer said, ‘I've been an expert at this for how many years,'" she said. "'And this is a self-inflicted gunshot.’ When I left the police station I just felt like a puppy dog with tails tucked between the legs. You know, you feel humiliated."
Julie was right and the police were wrong. They know that now. And now, Julie says that her daughter is being threatened too. She also struggles with addiction issues and has received threatening texts.
"Do you want to go like your brother?" said Julie, quoting the text messages. "You know, 'your brother was blah blah, you want to go the way he went?'"
His mother says that the family visits Mike’s grave often. "We’ll hold hands around the grave," said Julie, beginning to cry, "and we pray, ‘God, we want justice.’"
According to Bethel PD Sergeant Amy Davis, their investigation is still ongoing and they’re following up on a recent lead.