Court documents detail disappearance, slaying of Palmer teen
Updated at 2:39 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 6
Sixteen-year-old David Grunwald was beaten, kidnapped and forcefully walked into the woods before he was shot and killed by a single bullet from a 9 mm gun, according to a criminal complaint filed Saturday.
Accused of his death in the court documents is another teen, 16-year-old Erick Almandinger.
Grunwald was missing for nearly a month before his body was recovered from a “remote location” off of Knik River Road in Palmer on Friday, court documents say.
On Saturday, Almandinger was charged and arraigned as an adult on murder and kidnapping charges in connection to Grunwald’s death. However, he denies pulling the trigger, the complaint states.
Grunwald, a student at Mat-Su Career and Technical High School, was reported missing by his father shortly before midnight on Nov. 13. In his father’s immediate conversations with Alaska State Troopers, he said his son was expected home at 9 p.m. after dropping off his girlfriend.
But Grunwald never returned, behavior his father described as ““totally unlike him,” the complaint states.
His father also gave law enforcement a description of the vehicle his son had been driving and claimed he may have been headed to Anchorage with Almandinger. A search for the vehicle began and the responding trooper retraced Grunwald’s last known footsteps to his girlfriend’s house.
The day after Grunwald went missing, his 1994 Ford Bronco was found incinerated on Solitude Road in Wasilla. Despite a forensic analysis of the vehicle, no evidence was discovered and the SUV was turned over to Grunwald’s father.
After failing to contact Almandinger twice, police were able to interview him on Nov. 16.
In the initial interview, Almandinger said he knew law enforcement officers were there to talk about Grunwald, but claimed he hadn’t seen the teen in a couple of weeks. He did say Grunwald had been at his house that night, when Grunwald dropped off another minor, but Almandinger claimed he hadn’t seen him, the complaint says.
He also told law enforcement that he “heard” him and Grunwald were “supposed to go to Anchorage together,” but denied they did so or had ever had plans to. The document says Almandinger claimed he went to Anchorage for a party, solo, via cab that night. Almandinger couldn’t remember where the party was, where he was dropped off or how much the ride cost him, the document says.
The taxi company he claimed gave him a ride also denied any pickups for a minor, to the address he gave, that night.
The investigation did point to a different cab company, though. A driver told law enforcement he picked up three male juveniles on Schrock Road, at the Little Su Bridge. The group of minors wanted to go to a house behind an alternative school, but did not have enough money, according to the complaint.
Investigators interviewed Almandinger a second time on Nov. 23, at which pointed he admitted he lied about his whereabouts the night of the incident and said he “didn’t want to get his friends in trouble.”
On. Nov. 29, law enforcement searched Almandinger’s home. In a 1971 camper trailer, parked behind the home, investigators smelled the “overwhelming odor of bleach.” Further investigation found evidence of blood on the floors, walls and toilet, the complaint states.
Last Friday, a known acquaintance of Almandinger, told investigators that on the night of Grunwald’s disappearance Almandinger and another juvenile showed up at his house in a blue Bronco.
“He said Almandinger confessed to him that he killed D.G. (David Grunwald) and was seeking advice,” the complaint explains.
The same day, troopers contacted another juvenile — identified only by the initials D.J. in the document — who told investigators where to find Grunwald’s body near Knik River Road. A shell casing was found next to his body, the complaint states.
In a Dec. 2 interview with law enforcement, Almandinger denied knowing anything about Grunwald’s death. After he was confronted, he gave investigators more insight into the details that led to the teen’s slaying.
Almandinger told investigators, Grunwald went to his house on Nov. 13 to drink and smoke in the trailer behind the house. When Almandinger went into the house, he claims D.J. messaged him and told him to bring a gun to the trailer.
Almandinger said he brought a .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun to the trailer, according to the document, and D.J. then bludgeoned Grunwald with it.
“Almandinger admitted he stood by as this happened and did nothing to stop it,” the complaint states.
After the assault, they put Grunwald in the Bronco. According to the complaint, Almandinger said Grunwald was in and out of consciousness.
“Almandinger said he provided driving directions to D.J. towards the Butte,” the complaint said. “Almandinger said that as they drove towards the Butte he knew they were going to kill D.G. (David Grunwald).”
Almandinger said he and D.J. escorted Grunwald into the woods and D.J. shot him. Later, Almandinger accused another teen of pulling the trigger. He also admitted burning the vehicle to destroy any evidence.
The complaint also says Almandinger acknowledged he could have walked away from the crimes at any point, but didn’t. And, according to the complaint, the only potential motive in the murder is marijuana-related.
“The only motive that Almandinger indicated was present during the event was that D.G. had smoked all his weed,” the complaint says. “He said they didn’t get any money.”
Almandinger was a student at Valley Pathways High School, an alternative school in Palmer. He faces a single counts of first-degree murder and kidnapping. According to online court records, a temporary no bail order was set over the weekend. Almandinger is expected back in court for a preliminary hearing next week.
On Tuesday, Alaska State Troopers said in an online release that an autopsy was completed on the body found near Knik River Road last Friday. The body was positively identified as David Grunwald, whose cause of death was determined to be homicide.
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