Police: Suicide at end of conference of Alaska Natives

AP News
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Posted: Oct 18, 2015 3:02 AM
Police: Suicide at end of conference of Alaska Natives

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Organizers of the Alaska Federation of Natives conference announced there was a death at the Saturday afternoon closing ceremony.

Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman Renee Oistad says the person jumped about 3:30 p.m. from the third-floor balcony of the Dena'ina Center, according to the Alaska Dispatch News (http://bit.ly/1LWTNQj). Oistad called the incident a suicide, but she gave few other details.

Kippy Lanz of Anchorage told the newspaper that she saw the incident happen.

"He jumped," Lanz said. "He went right over the railing and went down ... headfirst. It happened so fast."

Laura Avellaneda-Cruz said she also witnessed the fall. She told the Dispatch News that she was standing on the west side of the third floor when the scene began to unfold.

"I saw him climb over and in that quarter of a second hoped it was a reckless joke and that he'd climb back onto the floor, but then I saw him let go and fall, then the sound, then the screams," Avellaneda-Cruz said. "My memory of it, though it is vague, is that there were two other people sort of near him trying to stop him, but they couldn't get to him in time to physically stop him."

Shortly before 4 p.m., firefighters and police officers surrounded the body with black curtains, the Dispatch News reported. Security also put panels around the edge of the balcony. The newspaper reported that police and security evacuated people from the first floor of the convention center and weren't letting people back inside.

Anchorage police Sean Keating told the Dispatch News that the person who died Saturday "looks older than 25. Appears to be a Native male adult with gray in his hair. He had a satchel and he had glasses. Several people said they saw him get on the edge and go over. No one was around him."

When asked about the person's identity, Keating told the newspaper, "We're waiting for the medical examiner to come. We cannot manipulate the body to look for ID until the medical examiner comes. It's sounding like a suicide. He was not pushed or injured. He just went up to it and jumped. I won't say it's a suicide, but at the same time, there's not a lot of other signs saying it was something else."

Keating added that the incident was probably captured on video and police will examine it.

Delegates in the concourse outside the main assembly room rushed to look over the clear glass railing. Some cried and hugged each other.

A banquet that the group planned to hold at the convention center Saturday evening was cancelled.

Co-chairwoman Ana Hoffman of Bethel announced the death to delegates. She asked for a moment of silence before leading a prayer.

Hoffman said a similar death has occurred before at the three-story convention center, which hosted President Barack Obama for a global warming conference in August.

On Thursday, speakers at the conference, Alaska's largest yearly gathering of indigenous people, lamented the disproportionately high rate of suicides among Alaska Natives, including a recent string of suicides in one village.