Homer finds comfort in the community after his arrest for murder

Anesha “Duffy” Murnane, resident of Homer. (Homer Police Department)

The Homer community is struggling to come to terms with this week’s news of an arrest being made in the disappearance of Anesha “Duffy” Murnane.

Kirby Calderwood, a 32-year-old former Homer resident, was arrested Monday in Ogden, Utah, on charges of kidnapping, first- and second-degree murder and tampering with evidence in Murnane’s death.

The arrest follows a multi-year, community-wide search for Murnane that began in October 2019. Murane disappeared on October 17, 2019 while on his way to a doctor’s appointment downtown of Homer, in broad daylight.

Christina Whiting helped organize the search and commemoration efforts.

“I think people are in shock,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of shock and numbness, and it’s quite overwhelming.”

The Homer United Methodist Church will open its sanctuary from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday. There will be no schedule, just time to sit in fellowship with others.

“People are invited to come and light a candle and sit in reflection. It’s going to be as simple as that,” Whiting said. “A lot of us mourn privately in our homes. And I hope those who are grieving have support systems, but having a place to go, you know, a church, a shrine, whether you’re a person faith or not is, I think, a very beautiful thing.

A candlelit remembrance will be held at WKFL Park next week, the site of many vigils to remember Murnane and keep hope and research efforts alive. The date and time will be announced on the Bring Duffy Home Facebook page. And the dedication and unveiling of the completed Loved and Lost Memorial Bench will take place at 1 p.m. on June 12 at the Homer Public Library. There will be a community potluck, as well as a link to watch online for those who cannot attend.

The bench was a year in the making, designed by artist Homer Brad Hughes with vision from Murnane’s parents, Sara and Ed Berg. It is meant to honor not only Murnane, but the epidemic of so many deaths due to murder or kidnapping. One side depicts the victims, the other the mourning left behind, hands reaching out to an eternal flame. The numbers represent all ethnicities and ages. The grief felt over Murnane’s murder is not unique to Homer.

“It’s Sara and Ed’s vision to create this bench for their daughter, for the community,” Whiting said. “Also, you know, to bring awareness to the issue of the number of missing people in Alaska, especially in the native communities, but also across the country, around the world.”

Whiting said the bench dedication had been in the works for months. Building it has been healing, giving the community a tangible way to show support and create something meaningful out of tragedy. Although the full extent of the tragedy only became known this week.

“I don’t know. I’m not naive, I’m not stupid. But I was hoping she was out there somewhere that could still go home,” Whiting said.

The arrest finally offers answers to what happened to Murnane. But these are not easy answers.

RELATED: Former Homer resident kidnapped, murdered woman missing since 2019, police say

According to court documents, Calderwood picked up Murnane from her car on Pioneer Avenue as she drove from her apartment to a doctor’s appointment. They had known each other since Calderwood worked at Main Tree Housing, the supportive housing complex where Murnane lived. They also used to eat together through a meal program run by South Peninsula Behavioral Services.

The lead investigator in the case reports interviewing Calderwood’s former partners, as well as his current wife in Utah, who allegedly called last month that Calderwood confessed to the murder. Police had identified Calderwood as a possible suspect since May 2021. The tip-off in April and a subsequent search in Utah produced hard evidence, including a watch that once belonged to Murnane.

The report presents a history of Calderwood’s violence and sexual assaults on his former partners. The affidavit states that Calderwood took Murnane to an unoccupied house in Homer, where he assaulted and killed her. Calderwood left Homer for Utah in 2021.

“The fact that she knows him, and that’s what’s so devastating,” Whiting said. “You know she knew him and she trusted him and he stopped and offered to drive her and she got in. And it’s such a loss of innocence. Even for me. I’m a woman of 52 years old and I think, I don’t know, in a way it’s different from a stranger abduction. In a way it feels different.

A statement released by the family says that if Calderwood is found guilty, they will be deeply relieved that he is off the streets and can no longer knock. They thanked the community for their support over the past two years.

Whiting echoes that thank you.

“It’s really hard to put gratitude into words, and we know they will guide us and keep this family uplifted through the memorial and the dedication, which is going to be beautiful and difficult,” she said. “And then the road this family will take to trial will be very difficult and, I’m sure, devastating. So we are grateful to everyone in the community who has shown love and support from all the different ways they have.

Fundraising efforts for the memorial bench have raised $34,000 so far. The goal is to raise $80,000.

If enough is raised to cover the cost of the bench, Whiting said, anything extra will be used to create models so other communities can create their own bench to remember their lost loved ones. Donations can be made through a GoFundMe page or through Homer United Methodist Church. Other fundraisers are also planned.

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