Homer finds solace in community after murder arrest

a woman sits on the beach
Homer resident Anesha “Duffy” Murnane. (Homer Police Department)

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

Thirty-two-year-old former Homer resident Kirby Calderwood was arrested on Monday in Ogden, Utah, for 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 started in October 2019. Murane disappeared on Oct. 17, 2019 while walking to a doctor’s appointment in downtown Homer, in broad daylight.

Christina Whiting has helped organize search and remembrance efforts.

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

Homer United Methodist Church will open its sanctuary from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday. There won’t be a program, just time to sit in communion with others.

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

A candlelight remembrance will be held at WKFL Park next week, the site of many vigils to remember Murnane and keep hope and search 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 be at 1 p.m. June 12 at the Homer Public Library. There will be a community potluck, as well as a link to watch online for those unable to attend.

The bench has been a year in the making, designed by Homer artist Brad Hughes with vision from Murnane’s parents, Sara and Ed Berg. It’s meant to honor not just Murnane, but the epidemic of so many lost to murder or abduction. One side depicts victims, the other side the grieving left behind, with hands outstretched toward an eternal flame. The figures represent all ethnicities and ages. The grief felt from Murnane’s murder is not unique to Homer.

“This is Sara and Ed’s vision to create this bench for their daughter, for the community,” Whiting said. “Also, you know, to raise awareness to the issue of just how many people go missing in Alaska, especially in the Indigenous communities, but also around the nation, around the world.”

Whiting said the bench dedication has been in the works for months. Its construction has been a source of healing, giving the community a tangible way to show support and the creation of something meaningful to come from tragedy. Although the extent of the tragedy wasn’t known until this week.

“I don’t know. I’m not naïve, I’m not stupid. But I did hope that she was out there somewhere that could still make her way home,” Whiting said.

The arrest finally offers answers to what happened to Murnane. But they’re not easy answers.

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

According to court filings, Calderwood picked Murnane up in his car on Pioneer Avenue as she walked from her apartment to a doctor’s appointment. They knew each other, from when Calderwood worked at Main Tree Housing, the supportive-living complex where Murnane lived. They also used to eat together at a meals program run by South Peninsula Behavioral Services.

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

The report lays out a history of Calderwood’s violence and sexual assault on his past partners. The affidavit said Calderwood took Murnane to an unoccupied house in Homer, where he assaulted and killed her. Calderwood moved from Homer to Utah in 2021.

“The fact that she knew him, and that’s what’s so devastating,” Whiting said. “You know, she knew him and she trusted him and he stopped and offered her a ride and she got in. And that’s such a loss of innocence. Even for me. I’m a 52-year-old woman and I just, I think, I don’t know, somehow that’s different than a stranger abduction. Somehow that feels different.”

A statement released by the family said, if Calderwood is found guilty, they will be profoundly relieved that he is off the street and cannot strike again. They thanked the community for their support over the last two years.

Whiting echoes that thanks.

“It’s really difficult to put into words the gratitude, and we know they’ll take us through 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 that this family will be walking forward through to the trial, it’s going to be very challenging and, I’m sure, devastating. So we’re grateful for everyone in the community who has shown love and support in all the different ways that they have.”

Fundraising efforts toward 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 go to create templates so that 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. Additional fundraisers are also being planned.

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