Kodiak in dark on double homicide investigation

From the vantage point of the Comfort Inn parking lot near the entrance to Kodiak's airport, traffic moves north toward downtown or south to the Coast Guard air station, the home to cutters, helicopters and rescue swimmers that aid mariners in the Bering Sea or the Pacific Ocean.

There's also a road running west for the two-mile trip to another Coast Guard facility, the communications station, comprised of a field of antennas and buildings that relay messages from the commercial fishing fleet and the shipping lanes.

The FBI is looking for witnesses who passed the Comfort Inn around 7 a.m. on April 12 who might have spotted a blue sport utility vehicle, a 2001 Honda CR-V, with a black bib over the grill.

The SUV and its possible presence near the motel are two of the few meager details the FBI has made public as it investigates a double homicide last month at the communication station. Richard Belisle, 51, a former Coast Guard chief petty officer who stayed on as a civilian, and Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins, 41, an electronics technician from Vergennes, Vt., were shot to death after they showed up for work April 12, a Thursday.

Their bodies were found in the rigger building, where antennas are repaired. The shooter is at large, and the FBI has been tight-lipped about who may be responsible.

"There's very little we can say about the investigation," FBI spokesman Eric Gonzalez said in the aftermath of the incident, adding that the integrity of the case was at stake.

The FBI has said the community of 6,300 some 250 miles south of Anchorage is not in danger, but has not said why, and residents remain perplexed.

"I think people are pretty confused on what's happening, or what's not happening," said Alf Pryor, an artist and commercial fisherman. "There's not very much information that has been shared, and lots of rumors."

He is not worried about his own safety, he said, but thinks others in Kodiak are.

"If there's no danger to the public, that would seem to indicate there's information out there that they could be sharing," he said.

Officially, for public consumption, there are no suspects or even a "person of interest" named by the FBI.

Unofficially, most everyone in Kodiak knows that a co-worker of the two dead men owns one such blue Honda CR-V, and a white Dodge pickup, another vehicle for which the FBI sought information.

The Kodiak Daily Mirror and KTUU-TV reported that authorities searched the home of the co-worker and his family, located south of the Coast Guard air station. No one in the home responded to questions shouted from outside last week by a KTUU-TV reporter.

Kodiak Mayor Pat Branson repeats the word "unsettling" when discussing the crime.

"We're not getting much information," she said. "I think it's an overall frustration for the community, not knowing what happened. I don't know that there is a blanket of fear in the town. I don't sense that, but it's unsettled."

No one — not the FBI, the mayor or local police — will even confirm the co-worker's name, much less that his home was searched.

As the FBI keeps a lid on details, it has continued to reach out to the public for help.

The FBI a week after the shooting asked people to come forward if they had seen the blue Honda or the white Dodge pickup near the communication station or on nearby roads. Department of Motor Vehicle records show the co-worker own both types of vehicles.

Five days later, the FBI appealed for information on the blue Honda CR-V only — whether anyone had seen it along the road to the communication station, or parked at the Comfort Inn.

"The vehicle may have been parked along the roadway or partially hidden behind a building or other obstruction in a fashion that it could have observed vehicles passing on the roadway," the agency announcement said. "It may also have been parked briefly in the parking lot of the Comfort Inn."

Focusing attention on the vehicle owners, Branson said, has put them in a bad situation.

"I know that family," she said. "Most people in the community do. They're involved with the community. So it puts them in a situation that I certainly wouldn't want to be in, where you have those kinds of identifications up there, with questions being asked. I guess people can come to their own conclusions, but they certainly shouldn't."

Early this month, the FBI and the Coast Guard Investigative Service asked volunteers to search near the communication station, especially people with metal detectors. More than 100 community members showed up and were told to look for anything out of place, such as clothing or pieces of a handgun.

The FBI has released no details about the weapon used in the shootings. However, last week agents made another appeal, seeking information from anyone in Alaska who sold, traded or transferred three models of .44 caliber revolvers in the last year.

How the FBI has gone about its business remains puzzling to the mayor.

"We're not in danger and then volunteers are asked to go out and look for evidence," she said. "I did not understand that, when volunteers are asked to go look for evidence. Who knows who could have planted anything out there?"

Pryor said it's no secret within Kodiak that the FBI is monitoring a community member. Both he and the mayor said they were not jumping to any conclusions.

"Absolutely not," Branson said. "That's what I'm saying. You just can't do that. They need to come to some conclusion with the evidence and find the suspect. Because the FBI has a car parked outside the house of a co-worker, doesn't mean that person is guilty by any means. And knowing the family, it would certainly surprise me if that were the case. I don't know."