ANCHORAGE — An Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman has contradicted statements made by the next-of-kin in an ongoing missing-persons case.
Colleen Vague, adoptive mother of Jael Hamblen, 20, and custodian of Joel, Hamblen’s 1-year-old son, told the Frontiersman Monday that the Anchorage Police Department had switched the investigation of Hamblen’s October 2014 disappearance from a missing persons investigation to a homicide investigation. Hamblen and Vague are long-time Valley residents.
Anchorage police officials were not immediately available to verify facts obtained during the interview because of Monday’s Seward’s Day holiday. Officials weren’t able to provide any additional information about the case after they returned from the holiday.
Any assertion about homicide is not true, said department spokeswoman Jenifer Castro.
“It still remains a missing persons investigation — not a homicide case,” she said. “It would become a homicide case if there was evidence that led us to believe that her disappearance was the result of criminal activity. We do not know yet.”
Vague did not return phone calls seeking clarification Thursday afternoon.
Castro declined to provide additional details about the investigation (including reports that hikers had located some of Hamblen’s personal effects), saying disclosure of evidence in active investigations could ultimately jeopardize prospects of a reunion, or any potential prosecution that may arise from a case. Information would only be provided to Hamblen’s next of kin. In this case, that’s Vague, Castro added.
While authorities have not definitively identified homicide as the cause of Hamblen’s disappearance, they haven’t ruled it out, either, Castro said.
Homicide detectives handle missing person cases, so any indication that the case had been transferred among departments within the department was incorrect, Castro said. Investigators also don’t give up on missing persons simply because of the passage of time, she said.
“There’s no time limit,” she said. “We always keep working at it.”
If enough time passes without a break in a case, detectives will consult with each other to examine possibly overlooked avenues of investigation, Castro added.
Public interest in unexplained disappearances can run high, Castro said. For example, an unnamed woman called the public information office early on in the case, identifying herself as Hamblen’s sister and seeking information. Department public relations officials became suspicious immediately because Hamblen doesn’t have a biological sister. When questioned, the woman said she was a really close friend seeking information. When public relations officials directed her to the detective in the case, she hung up the phone, Castro said.
“It’s not uncommon when we have events like this,” she said.
Additionally, social media outlets allow inaccurate information to spread quickly, Castro added.
“When you put information out there, people are only skim-reading things, or they’re putting things out there that are wrong,” she said. “It kind of goes like wildfire from there.”
Contact Brian O’Connor at 352-2269, email@example.com, or on Twitter @reporterbriano.