November 14, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 45

Haines man found dead near fairgrounds

A canine search team from Juneau found the body of 26-year-old Haines resident Jonathan Ward Wednesday morning near the Southeast Alaska State Fairgrounds.

Ward apparently committed suicide, said trooper spokesperson Megan Peters.

Two guns – a shotgun and a pistol – were found with the body about 300 meters southwest of the fairgrounds in a wooded, hilly area, Peters said.

She would not say whether gunshot wounds were present on the body.

Law enforcement officers and volunteers searched for Ward Tuesday and Wednesday after Ward’s family reported him missing Tuesday morning. He was last seen at 4:30 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 8, leaving his residence near the intersection of Small Tracts and Tower roads on foot.

“It was reported to us that he was consuming alcohol prior to setting out and that he was intoxicated,” Peters said.

No foul play is suspected, and no suicide note has been found, she said.

There was no sign of predation on or around Ward’s body, Peters said. “I know there is a rumor going around that he was being eaten by a bear, but there is no evidence of that.”

Interim Haines Borough police chief Simon Ford said after the team discovered the body, he was staged in the area in preparation for a bear attack, as many bear tracks had been spotted around the fairgrounds. That’s how the rumors might have gotten started, Ford said.

“Our first assumption was a bear had probably been in on the body and was probably caching it, so we were prepared for the worst,” he said.

Ford, Alaska State Trooper Andrew Neason, wildlife trooper Ken VanSpronsen, and officer Adam Patterson started searching the trail system between the fairgrounds and Cemetery Hill Tuesday morning, Ford said, after conducting interviews with Ward’s family and friends to try to discern his whereabouts.

By Tuesday afternoon, they brought in the SEADOGS K-9 rescue team from Juneau to assist in the search. The dog picked up a scent and led the search team toward Major Road.

“The dog found a trail and we followed it, but it got dark, so we had to stop the search,” Ford said.

A search team met up again at 8 a.m. Wednesday and found the body a little before 10 a.m., Peters said.

“According to the trooper, we probably would not have found him without the assistance of (the search and rescue dog),” she said.

Ford said Ward’s family didn’t call police to report Ward missing sooner because Ward had a habit of taking off for friends’ houses for a couple days.

Krystal Lloyd, a friend of Ward’s who knew him since he was 10, said it wasn’t out of character for him to leave abruptly, though he would usually contact someone if he would be gone for an extended period of time.

“I think (his family) was concerned, but like I said, John would go to his friend’s house and crash there occasionally, so I think that was everyone’s mindset of what was going on,” Lloyd said.

Ward’s body is being transported to the state medical examiner’s office for an autopsy. Peters couldn’t say when the results of the autopsy will be available.