In the wake of the horrific and almost unbelievable execution-style murder of a 16-year-old Palmer, Alaska, youth – allegedly at the hands of a similarly aged teen – a 49th-state educator has suggested it might be time prosecutors be given the authority to pursue charges against the parents of juvenile criminals.
Adam Mokelke, the principal at Anchorage e STrEaM Academy, floated the idea on his Facebook page Monday night, and it quickly gained traction. In a Tuesday interview, Mokelke said he doubts such a law would be used much, but there might be cases where it is applicable.
Mokelke said his passion for such legislation was stirred by the tragic death of 16-year-old David Grunwald.
“My daughter, Victoria, he was her boyfriend,” Mokelke said. “They were high school sweethearts. He came and knocked on my door one day and asked, ‘Can I take your daughter out?’
“Who does that anymore?
“He never let her open a door. He was always so good. They were best friends.”
Grunwald was last seen on Nov. 13, shortly after dropping Victoria at home in the tiny community of Butte in the broad, windswept Knik River Valley between Anchorage and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s home in Wasilla.
A day later, Grunwald’s Ford Bronco was found miles away abandoned on a Bald Mountain Ridge trail. It had been burned. There was no sign of Grunwald.
A search was begun. It went on for days with no trace of the missing teenager.
Meanwhile, court records now reveal, Alaska State Troopers were busy tracking Grunwald’s movements after he left the Mokelke home.
Gang wannabe arrested
On Saturday, troopers announced they had found Grunwald’s body and arrested an acquaintance, 16-year-old Erick Almandinger of Palmer. It didn’t take the internet savvy long to find the Facebook page of Almandinger, where he could be found making apparent gang signs and posing with his posse. The photos have since been removed from his page.
But the chatter continues on the Facebook pages of Almandinger’s friends, Mokelke said.
“There are other kids involved in this,” he said. “They were bragging about their gang as of yesterday. Some were posting gang signs (and) laughing.”
Alaska might be far from the rest of America, but gangsta rap and the idea of living some sort of gangsta lifestyle has infiltrated even the most remote corners of the still wild state. It is not unusual to find some young person in a Bush village trying to dress and act like an urban gangster.
Too often parents – if they’re paying attention enough to notice – just ignore the behavior.
Parenting is a subject little talked about in Alaska. It is a problem, said Mokelke, who used to work at a school in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. Mokelke said he became of aware of situations there he found hard to believe, including parents doing heroin with their children and prostituting their children in exchange for drugs.
He is troubled to now find young people on Facebook joking about the death of Grunwald. Where are the parents? he asked.
“How can you not know?”
Mokelke is a believer in parental responsibility. The best of parents do have kids who go bad, he conceded. It can happen to any parent no matter how hard they try to do the right thing. But a disproportion number of criminals come from bad families.
There is some data to back up this belief. In a study of more than a half million children in Sweden, researchers discovered that those who grew up in families connected to illegal drug use and violence “were seven times more likely to be convicted of violent crimes and twice as likely to be convicted of drug offenses,” The Economist reported.
The researchers, who reported their findings in the British Journal of Psychiatry two years ago, at first thought the behaviors were linked to poverty, but when they looked at families “which had started poor and got richer, the younger children—those born into relative affluence—were just as likely to misbehave when they were teenagers as their elder siblings had been. Family income was not, per se, the determining factor,” The Economist noted.
State court records indicate Almandinger grew up in a family with problems. Domestic violence protective orders were filed against his father, Rodney, several times in the 2000s by his mother, and Rodney in turn filed for a protective order against her.
No matter Erick Almandinger’s upbringing, the crime he is alleged to have committed is hard to imagine.
According to court records, after Grunwald dropped off his girlfriend, he drove to Erick’s home to join a group of teens drinking and smoking dope in a old camper trailer on the family property.
An unnamed teen at the party is alleged to have at some point asked Almandinger to bring a .40-caliber, semi-automatic handgun to the trailer. It was later used to pistol-whip Grunwald, according to troopers, though exactly why is unclear.
An affidavit filed by Trooper Sgt.Sergeant Tony Wegrzyn says Erick suggested he killed Grunwald because he smoked all of Erick’s “weed.” At least three teenagers are identified by their initials in the trooper document, but only Erick has been charged.
After a youth identified as D.J. beat Grunwald in the trailer, the affidavit says, he and Erick loaded the slightly built teenager into his own Bronco and headed for the nearby Chugach Mountains. Along the way, they drove past Mokelke’s house.
Somewhere along Knik River Road, records indicate, they pulled Grunwald out of the vehicle and walked him into the woods.
…”D.J. led, (and) escorted Grunwald into the woods away from the road” is how the MatSu Valley Frontiersman, the hometown newspaper of the teenagers reported what happened next. “Almandinger said he accompanied D.J. and acknowledged that Grunwald was pleading for his life as they walked.
“Wegrzyn’s affidavit states Almandinger told him when they got into the woods, D.J. shot Grunwald once with a 9 mm slug. When re-questioned, Almandinger changed his story stating that a third teen, identified as 16-year old “A.B.” had pulled the trigger.”
The group is then allegedly to have driven Grunwald’s Bronco to the Bald Mountain Ridge trail, set it afire and left the scene to return to Erick’s home where they used bleach to try to clean the blood out of the trailer and, apparently concluding that inadequate, burned the carpet.
Suspect IDed early
Even as a search for Grunwald was starting to spread out across the Matanuska Valley, troopers were looking for Erick Almandinger. They’d been told Grunwald had mentioned he might stop by the Almandinger residence on the way home.
Three days after Grunwald’s Bronco was found, they sat Erick down for an interview. Erick at first claimed not to have seen Grunwald in weeks, but did say Grunwald dropped a mutual friend at the Almandinger home on the night he disappeared.
Erick told troopers he himself had left home for a party in Anchorage that same evening. Troopers say that when they checked out that story, they found it untrue. Eventually they collected enough evidence that Erick was lying about his whereabouts to get a search warrant for electronic evidence.
They soon had Erick’s Samsung tablet in hand. The cellular location records in the tablet put him close to the burned out hulk of Grunwald’s Bronco at the time of the fire, according to troopers.
Armed with that information, the affidavits suggest it didn’t take long for Wegrzyn to get a confession out of Erick. A second interview started with Almandinger forced to admit he’d lied about his whereabouts on the night Grunwald went missing, according to troopers.
More search warrants were obtained. They led to the trailer with “an overwhelming odor of bleach,” according to troopers. Despite the bleach, investigators say they found traces of blood there.
They soon had the names of the other teens involved, too, they say, and on Friday one of them led authorities to Grunwald’s body.
Responsible parties should pay
Though Erick may have pulled the trigger, Mokelke said, the Grunwald case is bigger than that. He isn’t accusing of Erick’s parents of direct involvement, but he believes their lack of parental oversight might have contributed to Grunwald’s death.
“We should at least have the ability to make that investigation,” he said. “Why deny (prosecutors) the opportunity to bring charges against the family.”
A lot of people today want to blame video games or rap music for violent acts of the sort of which Erick Almandinger now stands accused, Mokelke said, but there is a more important reason.
“The deeper issue is how you’re raised,” he said. “There’s something deeply, deeply wrong here.
“This is hard for anyone to imagine. It’s incomprehensible.”
Only a few years ago, Erick Almandinger was entering cookies in the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, and now he stands accused of murder. If there are others who helped set the stage for the act, Mokelke said – and he emphasizes the word “if” – there should be a law allowing the state to bring them to trial too.
He has suggested calling such legislation “David’s Law” in honor of Grunwald.
Correction: This story was corrected on Dec. 8. The original story mistakenly placed the murder on Bald Mountain Ridge and misidentified Almandinger’s father. Grunwald was killed off Knik River Road. His Bronco was then moved and set afire. Almandinger’s fathers name is Rodney.
I understand the outrage. But authorities teach our children that their parents can’t spank them and correction amounts to standing in ‘time out’. You cannot have it both ways. We all have the responsibility of personal responsibility. Bad grades in school used to garner one an ‘f’, loosing a game didn’t get everyone a trophy. Our society allows bad behavior, to protect what, personal expression? Many posts here express the truth, good parents doesn’t guarantee good kids, nor does bad parents guarantee bad kids. If we can take a common sense lesson from nature, the mother bear if it cannot get her cub to comply, will get the attention of her cub, sometimes by the scruff of the neck. She knows the Cubs very life could be at stake. Respect is no longer taught in school, and how many teachers have left because some fear the very students they are hired to teach. There aren’t too many good answers to this whole mess we’ve got. But if you want to go after parents when the kid comit’s a crime, then you shouldnt go after them when they try to teach them acceptable behavior. Just another opinion .
Instead of dreaming up new laws, maybe take a look at the big picture. If you were a teenage kid in Alaska, what would be the deterrent be to not kill people? Not much. Heck, just turn on the news. Listen to news about Alexandra Ellis going on a drunken and drugged-out driving rampage and running over and killing a biker. And she only gets 3 months for killing a person. So to a teenager, what is the big deal about killing someone? If you only get 3 months in jail, then heck – no biggie. Just do your 3 months (or maybe SB91 has it less time now) and then get back to being a gangsta. To teenagers in Alaska, killing is no big deal, because Alaska allows killing by teenagers to be no big deal.
Craig, I have a question for you and then a statement in regards to your article.
Did you read this article from the Frontiersman:
The fifth paragraph from the bottom states that the investigators found “high velocity spatter”and a “void consistent with a human torso, arms and head” when they processed the trailer.
Isn’t “high velocity spatter” that would cause a “void”, caused by gunshot? The Frontiersman is the only article I have read that reported that. Is their report inaccurate, or am I incorrect in my assumption that “high velocity spatter” cannot be created by a beating. Can you find out?
And my statement in regards to the article:
We have laws on the books that can prosecute criminal parents without creating a new law that, to me, sounds like a Pandora’s box.
I think the more urgent issue is that investigators get all their questions answered by Erick Almandinger’s parents/guardians. Such as: Why didn’t they report him missing? Did they look for him? Did they peek their heads in that trailer at any time in those 3 days? Where did he get access to a gun? Where did he get pot and booze? Did they find it at all odd that their son disappeared the same night that Grunwald did, and what was their gut feeling about that? I’m sure that the investigators could come up with far more damaging inquiries than any of those.
What are the chances that one of these charges might stick: Child Negligence, Obstruction of Justice, Child Endangerment, Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor etc?
If the parents need prosecuting, they need to be held accountable for their actions surrounding this particular crime, not the entirety of their parenting career. I for one would like to know that the parents were thoroughly investigated for crimes in regards to the untimely demise of a bright young man.
Erick Almandinger is solely responsible for his part in the crimes.
rose: i did read the Frontiersman story just now, and i can’t really help you. i can only guess the word “void” was meant to mean “impression,” ie. an impression of body parts. i’m baffled as to a “high velocity spatter” or how that would differ from any other spatter. i could understand a spatter caused by a high-velocity bullet, or a spatter consistent with x or y or z. but i don’t understand this reference. and you are right, in cases like this, investigators might find acts related to the crime for which parents or others could be charged.
Kirk Douglas recently commented that you can be a perfect parent and end up with a disaster of a kid. Or you can be a terrible parent and the kids grow up perfect. I’ve seen both happen plenty of times. Jeffrey Dahmer’s parents were normal, well-adjusted people. I think prosecution of bad parents would be almost impossible. A bigger problem as I see it is the negativity of certain aspects of the popular culture. Bad influence!
I don’t think this is a good idea, at all. I think people should wait a while after a terrible event, like this, before making huge and permanent changes. Also, I don’t think the state should have the right to determine who is or who isn’t a good parent. Even the very best parents can have ‘bad seeds’. You mention nature and nurture, but not every human is the same. If they were, what worked for one would work for all and only bad parents would have bad kids and good parents would have good kids. But that doesn’t happen, because people are different. So one law for many people, and one that punishes a parent for their kid, therefore reducing the blame on the kid in essence, cannot possibly be a good idea.
Something needs to be done, would this case be an instant where this law would be used. maybe? but how would your hold the parent accountable?. I believe that the whole family breakdown that society has allowed and accepted can cause children to hurt, bully and murder children. There are children having children when they don’t want to, then having to be forced to raise them, and the parents don’t have the maturity, want or tools ( like jobs) to do so. remember back when it was embarrassing to be pregnant in high school, or even be pregnant and single. today it is not only accepted, but celebrated. I do believe that parents have to parent! that means they have to know what is going on in their lives.. Really? if my child had committed such a heinous act, would I not have known for 3 weeks let alone 3 days. unbelievable! And from accounts I have read he (Erick) hid our in a shed for 3 days. really, his parents didn’t know where he was for 3 days. and David’s parents started to worry 20 minutes after his curfew passed. Yes, he had a curfew, shouldn’t all 16 year olds on a school night. Parents have to monitor their social media too. What parent would allow their child to put known gang pictures on his website. I do believe that if children are raised with boundaries and respect for others there would be much less bullying and in this case murder, so yes I do support this law and I do hope that it isn’t used much, but parents need to parent their children.
Yes, parents need to parent. But I highly doubt another law is going to make much difference.
umm Craig, you appear to have already convicted Almandinger of the crime: ” …the crime he committed…” at this point isn’t he still just accused? Journalistic stds? Other than that interesting article. Hope more indictments come. Given one kid asked another to bring a gun (40 or 9mm?) is there potential for conspiracy or premeditation charges? Yes the gangsta BS is in every corner of the Bush. I participate in rural events where we do group photos. Its frustrating and disgusting that the kids insist on flashing hand signals in every photo. Finally, I hope folks realize how difficult it is to control electronics access and use by youth these days. Last summer we took away our son’s phone and tried to cut off most other internet access; he still managed to get some access now and then – very tough summer. For some, electronics are too much like heroin.
thanks, Dan. i’ll check. hopefully i didn’t commit that sin. i’m a big believer in innocent until proven guilty. troopers saying someone did it doesn’t mean he did it. that’s for a jury to decide. and you’re right. electronics seem addictive.
What about the kid who led the police to his body? Why isn’t this kid in custody or his name being released?
Makes sense to pass a “David’s Law” to put parents of violent children under the court microscope, and hold them partially accountable for the behavior of their kids. I’m sure that most good parents will also take another lesson from this horrific series of events: chose your friends wisely. Avoid associating with people who could stab you in the back figuratively, or shoot you in the head literally.
If we are looking to prosecute parents for actions of their children involved in crime, does that mean that David Grunwald’s parents will have to face charges because their child went to the place he was beaten in order to drink “and smoke dope?”
The kid wasn’t ever arrested or tried for any of that, so no.
David Grunwald was never charged with or convicted of any crime, so the answer to that would be, “No.”
Don’t go blaming David’s parents for anything. They’re the innocent victims along with their son David. RIP David. The teens responsible for David’s murder all need to be charged as adults. Give them prison without the possibility of parole. Their parents also need to be held accountable. Raising their kids to be evil monsters. God bless David’s family. His friends. His girlfriend Victoria and her family
Seriously?1 Smoking dope and drinking is MUCH different than murdering someone – especially the way this horrific crime was commented!
I agree this is a fishing expedition. If parents are always tried for their children’s crime, we are going to create a really shitty world. Let’s lock up mom because junior did something wrong. This situation should have been handled well before it got to.this stage. Isn’t that what OCS is for? Guess they failed to protect another kid from crappy parents.
That information was provided by the murderer. It’s not likely we will know why he was there. He could of been lured there. The truth may never surface.
there are several kids involved..and this could have happened any time..and still could with many of them…teachers and school records..man o man
i wrote to sarah palin when she was the mayor..she didn’t care then,,and look how her fam life has worked out:/
Seriously!! Smoking dope and drinking is MUCH different than murdering someone! Especially the way this horrific crime was commented!
I’m curious why you felt it necessary to mention Sarah Palin, especially since Butte is is between Anchorage and Palmer, not Wasilla. Fishing for clicks?
because there have been some parenting issues there as well David, and she is in her way representative of the MatSu valley for both better and worse. some would say more for better; some would argue the other way.
Getting pregnant is not analgous to murder
Jena: i’m unclear on your reference here.
Either tried as adult or too young so parents are culpable?
one of the fundamental questions, other than the old nature verus nurture argument. if society decides someone is responsible as an adult can it still bring criminal charges against the people who shaped that adult? if you’re old enough, you might remember the Patty Hearst tril in which she tried to escape prosecution by arguing that she was essentially brainwashed by the SLA, which is something similar. she lost.
But then that discounts any argument that nature does play an issue in shaping children. Since it in debate the court’s would waste money and hashing out the same argument. The only think that will occur is that the expert witnesses get rich off testifying, you break up families, and teach kids that they aren’t responsible for their actions.
Maybe if we stopped coddling everyone and handing them trophies for participating, constantly giving them second chances and start making them accountable for their actions, we won’t have absent parents that would rather watch movies and play video games than raising their kids!
Sort of a reverse sins of the father routine. Whatever happened to individual liberty and responsibility? Some ideas are so awful that they can only come from academia, which tells us a lot about academia here in Alaska these days. Cheers –
i don’t know, Alex; isn’t this all about individual responsibility? the science is pretty clear now that humans are both the product of nature and nurture. someone has to be responsible for the nurture. if we eliminate that as a parental responsibility, who does it?
This is turning into a very interesting series of observations on cruelty expressed, and parental responsibility for offspring. If you start with the act, and start tracing all the threads that lead back to society, the problem quickly becomes a tangle of yarn. The ultimate cause may lie in our genes, as the evidence mounts that early humans bashed each other’s skulls in with surprising regularity. And many (not all) societies, tribes, villages, etc. have tried various ways of minimizing and mitigating the damage we do to each other. Monitoring and correcting behavior by village members, who are often related to the young offender, is traditional IF the society values gentle virtues. Ours most certainly does not. We could be called “the bully society.” We value standing up for ourselves, pushing back when someone challenges us, taking up arms to defend our little hovels, or our little stash of weed. And our society is made up of so many people who are strangers to each other, so a kid doesn’t have to travel more than a block away from home before he or she becomes an unknown quantity, and can misbehave without being called out and redirected.
So from a philosophical viewpoint, it’s very difficult to place blame entirely with the parents, or with the young offender, or with society as a whole. But from a practical point of view, parents are responsible for their children’s actions, and are already legally responsible for their underage offspring’s damages. The parents of David Grunwald can sue the parents of the kid who murdered him in civil court. So in a sense, society does make judgments on good and bad parenting, by requiring parents to pay for damages caused by their children. Ultimately parents are responsible for their children’s actions. They chose to have them and to raise them, and if they renege on that, and their kid becomes a danger to others, they should be brought into the judges chambers the same way they would be put on the hot seat if their vicious dog bit an innocent person. It may take a “David’s Law.”
(and PLEASE don’t think I’m equating a vicious dog with a murdering teen!)
Howdy Craig – That’s where it gets a little (or a lot) weird. Given that raising a youngster is nature + nurture. Given that both parents and kids have free will and individual responsibility, where do we draw that line? Better yet, how do we assign that responsibility? We as a society have been on a course for several decades that undermines parental responsibility and enforcement at every turn. If the parents’ interests are subservient to the schools, various agencies and organizations, how to define their line of responsibility clearly? Better yet, how do we assign responsibility to the schools and agencies? Who pays when they screw up their piece of the pie? Obviously parents can’t look at a Bad Seed, say “Kill it” and fix the problem. But what about parents whose youngsters are busily spinning off into NaNa Land? Where do we draw their line, especially since all the Usual Suspects will fight them at every turn?
Great article, BTW. Really appreciate this blog. Cheers –