Murder on Knik River Rd: Meet the Parents, Part I

Given that both the suspects and their victim were in their teens, it is difficult to disregard their parents, if only because some supporters pointed fingers at the suspects’ parents. That means we should look at everyone. We’ll start from the top.

The Grunwalds
By the time David Grunwald was born, his mother was in her late 30’s and his father was in his early 40’s. Both in the military — he in the Air Force, she in the Air National Guard — Edie and Ben were already parents to two adopted children. While their own careers were important — Edie started with the rank of Airman and retired as a Colonel after 30 plus years — David was always their special someone. As parents, his family — Edie especially — made a point of taking him on a range of field trips, “so he could be different and be a leader.” That also meant following a strict military discipline of curfews, household chores and exceptional performance.

David seemed up to that ambition. At the time of his death, he was enrolled in the prestigious Mat-Su Career and Tech High School. Each summer he attended Aviation and Space Camp. His dad had started him on flying lessons. Predominantly schooled in Christian institutions during his elementary years, he joined Bible study at Valley Baptist Tabernacle in Palmer and, each summer, attended the Solid Rock Bible Camp. According to his obituary, he “accepted Jesus as his Savior.”

But things weren’t entirely rosy in the Grunwald household. By mid-2014, the Alaska Air National Guard was engaged in a full-blown scandal. And Col. Edith Grunwald was smack in the middle: Grunwald was director of human resources for the Guard, and a “senior advisor on manpower/personnel matters.” The Guard was having personnel problems galore.

Col. Edith Grunwald, Alaska Air National Guard

A 2014 investigation by the National Guard Bureau, Office of Complex Investigations (OCI), found a range of extremely troubling issues:

  • The OCI found that the Alaska Air National Guard was suffering from “hostile climate issues,” stemming from a “general pattern of inappropriate behavior that was not being addressed by the leadership.” Examples included the “public display of nude pictures, sexual innuendo and inappropriate touching” within the workplace.
  • Inappropriate use of government travel and purchase cards was uncovered, as was one incident of embezzlement and a separate incident involving the misuse of equipment, including a helicopter, and personnel for personal gain.
  • The investigative team also found that while there were many kinds of misconduct (failed urinalysis, alcohol violations, sexual assault, assault, fraud, etc.), there “was a lack of consistency in the tracking of various cases…” and “a lack of consistent punishment for like offenses.”

“Overall, the survey reveals a perception of lack of leadership integrity within all levels of command,” investigators wrote in their final report. Col. Edith Grunwald, along with two other officers, was fired.

David adored his mom, calling her “the best mom ever.” Suddenly — publicly — that authority was being called into question. Did that, in some way, lead David to act out in ways that betrayed his straight-arrow reputation? Or was it just teenage rebellion after so many years towing the strict lines laid out by his parents? Whatever it was, David dove into a world he little understood and was ill-equipped to handle.

David Grunwald and his mom, Edith Grunwald (courtesy Edie Grunwald for Lt. Governor)

Sources: Anchorage Daily News, KTUU, Alaska Public Media

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