Community remembers Jaclyn Welcome, and raises awareness about homelessness

Three women stand in front of a microphone, one is holding a photo in her hands
Desiree Montenegro holds a photo of her sister, Jaclyn Welcome, during a community remembrance on June 27, 2021. On her left is London Eleanore, and on her right is Amy Welcome. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Several dozen mourners gathered in a park in Anchorage Sunday evening to remember Jaclyn Welcome, a 37-year-old woman who was fatally shot on June 20. 

The event was hosted by First Presbyterian Church. Pastor Matt Schultz said the service was about more than just remembering Welcome’s life. 

“We gathered together to mourn and to share our grief following this horrific, tragic event, but also we’re here to lift up and to proclaim with all of our might, that she and all people who experience homelessness are people, human beings, God’s beloved children,” he said. 

A broken window on the side of a tan building with two people sitting on the street corner nearby
A makeshift memorial near the location where Jaclyn Welcome was fatally shot early in the morning on Saturday, June 19, 2021 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Welcome was the only person who died from a June 20 mass shooting that injured four others. She was experiencing homelessness at the time she was shot in a downtown parking lot. 

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The alleged murderer, 21-year-old Anthony Herring, was an employee of a nearby gas station.

According to a criminal complaint, Herring argued with homeless people in the downtown area before returning early the next morning and opening fire. It’s not clear whether Welcome — or homeless people in general — were the intended target of the shooting. 

RELATED: Charges: Anchorage man argued with homeless people before returning and opening fire

About 50 people stand and sit in a green field in front of a church
Mourners gather on the Park Strip outside of the First Presbyterian Church in Anchorage on June 27, 2021 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

The National Coalition to End Homelessness documented at least 39 cases of homeless people being killed between 2018 and 2019. In a 2020 report, it said that homeless people are more likely to be subject to violence because they are sometimes targeted and because they are easier to attack since they don’t have houses. But homelessness is not a federally protected class.

Schultz said it’s an important time to remember the humanity of everyone. 

“It’s been a difficult year in terms of the public rhetoric. And I think that is a big factor here,” he said.

Two women embrace in front of a car trunk with several kids
London Eleanore (in blue) embraces Amy Welcome after speaking at a community vigil on June 28, 2021 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Welcome’s family also spoke at the service. One of her sisters, Amy Welcome, lamented the loss of Jaclyn and called for more services for those with substance abuse problems. 

“I know that if she didn’t have anything, she found a way to get people what they needed. Even if it came off of her own, out of her own bag, the last thing she had…The only thing that I could wish for is more resources,” said Amy Welcome. 

“I think we all share the same wish my family and I — we just wish we had more time with her. More days with her, more hugs, more words,” said sister Desiree Montenegro. 

“She doesn’t know and can’t understand what kept dragging her back to the streets but she accepts it. She’s probably better and more at peace at home,” said her mother Genevieve Nathan, translated from sign language by Amy Welcome. 

A man in an allen Iverson jersey speaks at a microphone
Community advocate Sam Johns speaks at a community vigil on June 28, 2021. Johns reminded the crowd that Jaclyn Welcome was Indigenous, from Metlakatla. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

After the service, attendee Nicole Matteson said she struggled with homelessness about a decade ago. During that time, she said, she became good friends with Jaclyn Welcome. Matteson said they lost touch, but she wanted to come to the service to remember Welcome’s sense of humor. 

“We would have moments together and we would laugh so hard. And I mean, we’d almost wet our pants. We laughed so hard together. She was an amazing person,” said Matteson. 

A man and woman hug and look sad
Nicole Matteson, a friend of Jaclyn Welcome, is comforted by her husband at a community vigil on June 27, 2021 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Others remembered Welcome’s kindness and generosity, even as she struggled with addiction and homelessness. 

This story contained a typographical error in the spelling of Matt Schultz’s name in one instance.

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Lex Treinen covers culture, homelessness, politics and corrections for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at ltreinen@alaskapublic.org.