Human life ought to be more valuable than to callously “dump” the body of a deceased person in a gravel area alongside a country road.
Yet, exactly that is what occurred this week in the Chugiak-Eagle River area.
At about a quarter after 2 on the afternoon of Tues., May 16, when the mass exodus of high school students from Chugiak High School was dying down to a trickle and many in the business community are taking their mid-afternoon break, police responded to a report that a body was spotted alongside the S. Birchwood Loop Road.
Obviously whoever thought that a gravel pad next to a fairly busy road that feeds traffic between the Glenn Highway and the Old Glenn Highway was an appropriate final resting place for the body that once housed a living person complete with a soul plus ambitions, dreams and hopes did not bother to think through making that decision become the reality that Anchorage Police officers had to guard for a couple hours while waiting for the medical examiner to arrive.
The body of Zachariah Schneider had to have been clearly visible from the other side of the road when police arrived. I write this because when I arrived on scene at approximately 4:30 p.m., I easily spotted the whitish tarp covering what I quickly surmised must have been a tall male long before I pulled over to park my car. If I could so obviously spot where the body was with the presence of several APD vehicles on the same side of the road as the body was, my first thought was wow, how much more plainly in view was this 19-year-old’s body when police arrived; when the first passerby to spot him arrived?
Police are in the throes of investigating this death. Thus much of the who, what, why and when of the circumstances leading to his death will not officially be released until that is complete. That is the appropriate process.
Yet, there are some things about this death that are already evident. And these things ought to shake this community to its core even though this young man did not hail from our little burg.
Never mind that Zachariah Schneider lived in Anchorage with his mother. Never mind that he had just recently returned to Alaska after having lived with family in the Lower 48. Never mind he had some troubles as his mother, Alaina Rochelle, has readily shared with the ECHO News.
We know a lot about the “where” in this case.
First off, the primary “where” is that it occurred here.
Police are not able to confirm or deny this information, but the ECHO News has been told by several off-the-record sources that Zachariah Schneider had been partying at a home here in Eagle River when he died from an overdose. That is appropriate at this time. They have to wait for toxicology reports; they have to perform due diligence interviewing people who were with him during his final hours. Yet, the reality in today’s modern world in which social media has become the glorified version of coffee shop talk and the good old rumor mill, we no longer have to wait for the official police report to have an unfortunate verification of what most likely happened to this young man. His mother – who had back surgery Tuesday morning and was given the awful news of her son’s death shortly after she recovered from the anesthesia – has confirmed via a phone call she made to our offices that her son died from a drug overdose and that his companions at the time opted to not contact the police or seek any form of medical help when it was discovered that he was no longer alive.
It is sickening that a mother – or a father – would ever have to receive such news about their child. It is even more upsetting to put one’s self in this mother’s shoes and try to imagine what it must feel like to be coping with the physical pain of recovering from a surgery while one’s heart is being ripped apart because the person she gave life to is now dead.
Even more disturbing is the fact that his death was apparently handled so carelessly. I would like to say “handled so carelessly by those last with him,” but the reality is that I do not know that for a fact. I do not know who was partying with him, I do not know who gave him the drugs – crushed up methadone – that I am told were mixed in to whatever he was drinking and I do not know the identity of who drove his body to that vulnerable patch of gravel alongside the road.
I sure would like to know.
I would like to hear from people that were at that party.
I want to ask them what in the hell they were thinking.
What is the thought process that ends up at the corner of “this guy is probably dead so we should not bother to call for help and so let’s go dump his body alongside a busy country road?”
Here is the answer: It is one most likely highly compromised by too much alcohol or drugs or the combination thereof.
Now, listen, I am no prude. Alcoholic beverages have slipped past my lips plenty of times. I voted yes to legalize recreational use of weed because frankly I struggle with criminalizing a plant that was put on this planet by the Almighty in Heaven.
Yet, what I am hearing about the partying that surrounded Schneider in his last few hours of earthly life scares the crap out of me.
And it really pisses me off too.
I am angry that our young people are putting themselves and others in this type of dangerous situation. I am angry that medications such as methadone designed to be a pain reliever for persons undergoing drug addiction detoxification are not only being abused and misused but are being handled in such a way as to apparently result in unintended death.
I am concerned that our kids (and yes adults too) can be victims to the consequences of the poor choices that we can only wait to confirm with the results of testing done on the blood and most likely other bodily fluids taken from this young man.
This just is not acceptable behavior to occur anywhere – but especially not in this community where the image we emit to the outside world is one of a close-knit family that takes care of each other.
My son is 19 years old.
Fortunately, his diagnosis of autism has given him a clear sense to obey the social rules he was taught in elementary school that abuse of drugs – whether they be medications or illicit – is a sure fire way to get in trouble.
I am blessed.
Yet, the reality that anyone can make poor decisions haunts me.
What if just one time, he made the wrong choice?
It only takes one wrong choice to create a permanent end.
In the past couple days I have been criticized for the reporting I have done as editor of the ECHO News in regards to this death investigation. I have been called names and called unprofessional.
So be it. This is the United States of America. I will defend anyone’s right to their free speech.
But please, do myself and yourself the favor of bothering to chat with me about the approach the ECHO News has taken toward this event. Call me. I am happy to explain that yes, I am terribly saddened that the reports regarding Zachariah Schneider’s body being found along the S. Birchwood Loop Road have been viewed nearly 25,000 times in just 48 hours.
Our human fascination with this type of story is downright morbid. Reminds me of that song from the early 80s, “Dirty Laundry,” by Don Henley discussing the blonde on the television newscast and the gleam in her eye when she talks about the plane crash.
One of the lines, “It’s interesting when people die. Give us dirty laundry,” sure applies right here and now in 2017 in Chugiak-Eagle River.
Maybe the high level of interest in this story is a good thing. Maybe it will raise awareness of the less than healthy activity going on in our community. You know, the stuff we don’t want our kids involved in; the stuff we don’t want to admit is happening because then we have to make a stand against it. Maybe enough people will get irritated enough to tell drug dealers to get the hell out of here. Maybe.
I’ve used the word hell twice in this piece.
I am sure I will be criticized for it.
I simply cannot find another word in the English language that better describes this whole incident.
Zachariah Schneider’s mother, his other family members and the friends that cared about – not the “morons” that dumped his body alongside the road – are going through hell right now.
Tradition tells us that newspaper editors and reporters are not supposed to have an opinion. That is bunk.
We are humans. We care about stuff too.
What we need to do is recognize our opinion and set that aside to provide an accurate and clear report of what is going on. I have done it many times and I will do it again in the best interests of the ECHO News readership that deserves the opportunity to make up their own mind about a variety of issues.
Yet, at times, our lofty ideals flying so proudly like a kite on a string get hammered and knocked to the ground by a strong wind; by a force bigger than ourselves.
This is one of those times.
The fact is that I have lived in this community far too long to not have the opinion that what happened to Zachariah Schneider should not happen again.