Kiana Teacher Arrested on Missouri Child Sex Abuse Charges

The Kiana School on November 14, 2011. Photo: Justin Rummel via Flickr Creative Commons.
The Kiana School on November 14, 2011. Photo: Justin Rummel via Flickr Creative Commons.

A Missouri man who spent the last four years teaching throughout western Alaska has been arrested on charges of sexually abusing his adopted daughter—and is alleged to have subjected his six other adopted children to “years of physical abuse and neglect.”

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On Friday, Aug. 29, Alaska State Troopers arrested 42-year-old Owen M. Miller in Kiana, where he had been teaching language arts to middle and high school students in the community of more than 350 people just east of Kotzebue.

Miller faces an extraditable warrant from the State of Missouri on five felony counts of child sex abuse, stemming from allegations from one and testimony from at least two more of his adopted children.

“We were contacted by the Missouri authorities,” said Kotzebue Trooper Nathan Sheets. “They provided us a copy of his arrest warrant and said they had been told he was in Kiana working as a teacher.”

State teaching records show Miller has been teaching in Alaska since 2010, first in the Yupiit School District along the lower Kuskokwim River for three years. Miller said he worked at the Akiak and Tuluksak school sites (both communities of fewer than 400 people)  before moving on to the Kiana School in the Northwest Arctic Borough School District since fall 2013.

In an interview at Nome’s Anvil Mountain Correctional Center Thursday, Sept. 4, Miller said he was a teacher before he came to western Alaska, and said he moved to the state in 2010 “to pursue a lifelong dream” of living in rural Alaska. Missouri court records, however, list a Wasilla apartment as his home address dating back to November 2003.

Though he claimed to have moved to Alaska “with his family,” he said he and his wife soon divorced and she moved to Wasilla.

“I planned a new life in Alaska,” Miller said.

But Missouri court documents allege Miller and his wife left a dark past behind them. Citing as witnesses a Missouri sheriff’s deputy, two Missouri State Highway patrol officers, a Wasilla police officer, Miller’s seven adopted children, and others, the Missouri court’s statement of probable cause alleges Miller and his wife were responsible for years of “sexual and physical abuse” of the couple’s adopted children, abuse the sheriff’s deputy claims occurred “in many jurisdictions throughout Missouri and Alaska.”

Miller faces five felony charges, including statutory rape, sodomy, two counts of child molestation, and incest. All charges have been filed in Missouri; no criminal charges have been filed in Alaska. Miller’s wife has not been charged with any crimes.

A sworn statement from the Andrew County Sheriff’s Department in Savannah, Missouri, alleges Miller and his wife routinely locked their adopted kids in attics, basements, and outdoors, leaving them without food for days. At other times, with their siblings padlocked inside their rooms, the children had to crawl through holes in the wall to steal food from a freezer and heat it up on a wall furnace.

In August of last year, the Missouri court documents describe one of Miller’s adopted daughters reaching out to a Wasilla police officer to disclose more than a decade of physical and sexual abuse. The documents describe “a marriage ceremony in Savannah” in August 2002, but exactly who was married is unclear. After the ceremony, the adopted daughter—who at the time court documents say was under 12 years old—alleges Miller sexually abused her, beginning more than ten years of such abuse, with Miller said to have routinely plied the victim with alcohol.

Miller’s wife told the same Wasilla police officer in August 2013 that she knew of the physical abuse but denied any sexual abuse.

“I didn’t do what I’ve been charged with,” Miller said from jail in Nome Thursday. “I don’t know what to say beyond that.” He denied the charges, refusing to talk about his children, and said he had had trouble contacting family members and a lawyer in jail. Miller said he had not even seen a full list of charges a week after his arrest.

Susan Morgan, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, said Alaska adoption officials were unable to comment on whether or not Miller’s children were adopted in Alaska due to the state’s confidentiality laws. Miller said his children were all adopted in Missouri.

Prosecutor Steve Stevenson in Andrew County, Missouri, said the initial reports regarding the abuse came to his office in October and November of last year. Stevenson said Miller has other offenses in other Missouri counties. “There were several problems in other places,” he said.

Stevenson credited the state’s “longer statute of limitations for sexual offenses” with making the warrant for Miller possible. “In cases of physical abuse only, we don’t have as long to prosecute someone on late-arriving information.”

Miller has no criminal history in Missouri or Alaska. Sondra Meredith, who administers teacher certificates for the Alaska Department of Education, said that means he had no trouble passing the mandatory background check for his teaching certificate in Alaska.

“In the case of Mr. Miller, there is no indication that any of those checks resulted in any of those red flags in our office,” she said Thursday, going so far as to run another background check that day. “Basically he came through with a clean background check.”

Annmarie O’Brien, superintendent of the Northwest Arctic Borough School District where Miller most recently worked, said there was no record of any concerns of child welfare during Miller’s time with the school.

“The staff has expressed surprise, but there haven’t been any concerns [expressed] of Mr. Miller while he was working in Kiana,” O’Brien said.

Norma Holmgaard, the superintendent of the Yupiit School District, refused to release any information on Miller’s three years with the district.

James Seitz, executive director of Alaska’s Professional Teaching Practices Commission—the body that enforces the code of ethics on the state’s teachers—said Miller had never been sanctioned by the teaching commission. Seitz added that privacy concerns prevented him from disclosing if complaints had ever been filed against Miller during his time teaching in Alaska.

Miller is currently awaiting extradition to Missouri in Nome’s correctional center, pending $250,000 bail.

Kenny Ragland with The Savanna Reporter contributed to this story.