Given that both the suspects and their victim were in their teens, it is difficult to overlook their parents, if only because some supporters pointed fingers at the suspects’ parents. That means we should look at everyone. This time, we meet the suspects’ families.
Meet The Almandinger’s
In his early teens, Erick Almandinger entered cookies in the Alaska State Fair in Palmer. Now he stands convicted of murder. Clearly, he lost the through-thread of his life.
Rodney Almandinger, his father, testified in court that his son wasn’t going to school regularly that fall of 2016, and had been living at drug houses over the summer. Erick appeared to come and go as he pleased. The Sunday night that Grunwald went missing — a school night — Erick Almandinger told troopers he was at a party in Anchorage. His father testified he wasn’t worried when he looked in Erick’s room at 1:00 in the morning and his son wasn’t home.
State court records indicate, moreover, that the Almandinger family had some issues. Domestic violence protective orders were filed against Rodney Almandinger several times in the 2000’s by Erick’s mother, Chrystal. Rodney in turn filed for a protective order against her.
It was altogether a strange domestic situation. Rodney lived at his mother’s house, running a small stained glass business out of her basement. By all accounts — including Rodney’s — it was Myler Almandinger who ruled the roost: on the day of David Grunwald’s murder, Rodney deferred to his mother when David Evans asked if he could resume living at the Almandinger residence.
That Erick was even living with his father was yet another story. His mother had kicked him out of her house months earlier for, among other things, hanging out with kids she didn’t approve of. Yeah, those kids.
Meet The Johnson’s
In court jurors heard from Dominic Johnson’s mother, Misty Johnson, and got some insight into his life before his arrest.
“This is you to Dominic,” defense attorney Jon Iannaccone read aloud from text messages Misty sent to Dominic. “No you won’t because I’m not visiting you in jail, no one will. You sure turned out to be quite a piece of shit.”
Iannaccone read another volatile text message exchange between Misty and Dominic on November 11, 2016, just two days before troopers said Dominic took part in Grunwald’s murder. “I’m going to throw a party when your ass goes to jail, a fucking party. Say hi to your dad while you’re in there,” Misty wrote.
Misty told jurors she was upset Dominic “hadn’t been acting like himself” and that’s what prompted those messages. “He was hanging out with kids I didn’t allow over and he was very upset I wouldn’t let them over and we got into a heated argument,” Misty said.
Although she denied that Dominic was ever homeless he, too, was adrift and moving from place to place. Worse, when Misty let some of Dominic’s friends stay over, they proceeded to rob her father’s safe, stealing cash and jewelry. One of the accused robbers was none other than Austin Barrett, he of the 9mm pistol used to kill David Grunwald.
Facebook Message Posted by Misty Johnson on the Justice for David Grunwald page
Meet the Barrett’s
Little is publicly available about Austin “Andrew” Barrett’s family. We do know that he was persistently homeless. That he stayed with Misty Johnson one Thanksgiving and returned the favor by helping to steal her father’s safe, taking cash and jewelry in the process. We do know that, on the night David Grunwald was killed, Austin Barrett slept in a car in front of Devin Peterson’s house. We also know that he was in the Valley Hotel with the other suspects on December 2nd, the day troopers pulled all the threads together; he was there because… he was homeless and on the run.
Austin “Andrew” Barrett (Misty Johnson identified the watch on Barrett’s wrist as one that belonged to her father)
Meet the Renfro’s
Bradley Renfro denies participation in David Grunwald’s murder. But he was the one who purchased the gasoline used to torch Grunwald’s Bronco. And Renfro was the connection fo Alissa Bledsoe — she was his girlfriend and she gave them shelter when they were on the run after the murder. Bledsoe was also with Bradley when they tried to check into the Valley Hotel. Like his friends, he was homeless and on the run.
It was Renfro’s grandparents who were present in the courthouse at the close of Erick Almandinger’s trial, awaiting the verdict. They told reporters they believed their grandson would meet the same fate that Erick Almandinger met.
There was sadness in that admission. No matter what the verdict for their grandson, they said, there was no good outcome. A teen was dead and the young men, including their grandson, would never have the chance at a normal life.
Meet the Peterson’s
When Devin Peterson was arrested for his role in David Grunwald’s murder, police seized his cell phone. They found a video he’d taken of an intoxicated 15-year-old being raped. Child porn charges followed quickly. Devin’s brother Damien, meanwhile, was brought in on being an accomplice in a homicide that was originally ruled an accident. With Damien Peterson the night of that murder: Austin Barrett.
According to their mother, Alanah, Damien and Devin have different fathers. She told reporters that Damien’s father lives in Anchorage and maintains a relationship with his son. Devin’s father recently moved back from Pennsylvania, Alanah said, but Devin refuses to have a relationship with him.
Alanah Peterson, who works three jobs, says she called police repeatedly to have Devin arrested on probation violations in the hopes of getting him out of the lifestyle. “They were already doing crazy stuff, but I didn’t think anybody could kill anybody. It just didn’t seem like they gave a crap. They just took stuff from people and they didn’t care,” Alanah said, adding that she could see a change for the worse come over Devin once he started hanging with the Almandinger posse (1).
Peterson also told reporters that the public condemnation of the parents of the accused — which Alanah said has included death threats — is misplaced. “It’s not the parents’ fault,” she insisted. “At a certain age kids have to know right from wrong. If they didn’t learn it from you they learn it at church or school. This could be anybody’s child. It doesn’t have to be a bad kid to get in this situation.”
(1) Devin had been in trouble with the law since his first criminal act at the age of 11. His criminal activities appear to have picked up from age 15 on. His mother is dissembling when she attributes changes in his behavior solely to his Mat-Su Valley friends.
Sources: Anchorage Daily News, KTVA-11, KTUU, Alaska Public Media, The Frontiersman