The findings of the Seward Police Department's investigation into the August death of Preston Atwood have been turned over to the Kenai District Attorney's Office, according to SPD Chief Tom Clemons. 

Clemons revealed the development in the homicide case Wednesday afternoon amid mounting public pressure, swirling rumors and frustration from family members of the victim. 

Atwood, 21, was reported missing after not being seen since Aug. 25, when he was said to have been at Fourth of July beach. According to a missing person bulletin, he was also reported to have been seen the afternoon of Aug. 27 at Two Lakes Park, near the entrance by First Lake.

His body was found the following Friday, according to his aunt Brooke Andrews. 

"And we’ve been in hell ever since," she said during a phone interview Wednesday. 

Andrews described Atwood as a great guy who loved his family. She said he was passionate about music and songwriting. 

"If Preston were here, he would be hurting so much for his family, to see his family, to see his parents and grandparents and extended family so tragically grieving," she said. 

Initially, SPD declined to describe the nature of their investigation into Atwood's death. On Sept. 19, the department alerted the community the case had been classified as a homicide through a post on its Facebook page. 

"We have been asked to say 'no comment' from the police since day one, for fear of meddling with the investigation. And we certainly do not want to do that, and that’s why we are not going to speak about the details, but the time frame is what we’re so frustrated about," said Andrews, before Clemons announced the case had been submitted to the DA's office Wednesday afternoon.

Andrews said the family was alerted about the seriousness of the case before Atwood's body was found. 

"It was brought to light before Preston’s body was found that he truly was not missing or hiding, that he had been assaulted," she said. 
 
Through a tip, the family believes they know who the killer or killers are, according to Andrews — and in a small town, home to just a couple thousand year-round residents, it's difficult to wait for justice. 

"It is tearing our community apart."

"It is tearing our community apart. That is the most blunt, heartbroken way to say it," she said. "We see these people at the gas station. We see these people picking up mail. We see them, there’s one main street through Seward, we see them. We know what vehicles they drive. We see them. Some of them are related to people that you know and love. It’s heartbreaking. It’s truly, truly heartbreaking." 

A letter from Andrews, imploring SPD to hand off the case to the Alaska State Troopers or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has been circulating on social media. She said either a family member or close friend has been visiting the police department every few days to check on the progression of the case. 

Wednesday, Seward Mayor David Squires, whose term ends Monday, said he has confidence in SPD's ability to properly investigate homicides. 

"Things take time to get it right," he said. "If you get it wrong, people walk."   

 

Through a phone conversation, Clemons explained his reasoning for being what some have perceived as tight-lipped regarding the investigation.

"Before people make up their minds, we'd like to be able to have a jury in Seward and not someplace else. So if they don't know things because we can't tell them, that's better in the long run because then we can have a jury in Seward and not in Fairbanks like they just did for that Palmer case," he said.
 
Clemons was referencing the recent jury trial for now convicted murderer Bradley Renfro, a high-profile Palmer case that was moved to Fairbanks in order to seat an impartial jury.
 
"I just wanted to make sure that we did it right and when we gave it to the DA, which we have done, that it's as perfect as it can possibly be and that's where we're at with it," he said.
 
Clemons added, "And I think that people should be glad that we're doing that, because if we do this stuff too fast, we could end up losing the case and that's not worth it to me. I wanted this to be a perfect case and I wanted to do that for the family and I wanted to do that for the community of Seward, but mostly for the family." 
 
He also said police did not feel they were dealing with serial offenders — in which case they would have moved much faster. He said there were no indications the violence was going to continue, so they took the time to do "what the right thing is for the case." 
 
Clemons said he plans to make an announcement once a charging decision is made in the case.

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