Charges filed against 41-year-old in Kotzebue investigation

Kotzebue as seen from the road east of town (Photo: Zachariah Hughes – Alaska Public Media, Kotzebue)

On Monday afternoon, federal officials announced charges against a Kotzebue man in the case of a missing girl who was found dead last Friday.

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U.S. Attorneys are charging 41-year-old Peter Wilson with making false statements to federal agents. In charging documents from the U.S. Attorney’s office, FBI Special Agent Michael Watson said investigators tracked the movement of a GCI cellphone that belonged to 10-year-old Ashley Johnson-Barr. Based on geo-location data from the phone, searchers looked in a secluded patch of tundra about two miles outside town and found the young girl’s body Friday afternoon.

By that point, the FBI had interviewed Wilson about his potential involvement in the disappearance. According to Chloe Martin, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Anchorage, Wilson broke the law by intentionally misleading federal agents.

“They caught him in the lies, as alleged in the criminal complaint,” Martin said.

The documents suggest Wilson knew Johnson-Barr, something he denied when interviewed by agents. He was allegedly borrowing a four-wheeler at the time the young girl went missing on September 6th. Wilson had Johnson-Barr’s cellphone in his jacket pocket that same evening, according to an acquaintance of his who spoke to investigators. Wilson was arrested and brought to Anchorage over the weekend.

Federal investigators have been working closely with state and local officials on the case.

As of Monday afternoon, no murder charge has been filed in the case.

“The investigation is on-going,” Martin said. “We have been talking to the state the whole time, and everyone agrees to the current federal charge. As to other charges, we’ll have to see what evidence develops.”

Wilson has a hearing in federal court in Anchorage on Tuesday.

Kotzebue is a close-knit community, and the eight-day search for Johnson-Barr brought an outpouring of support from all over rural Alaska.