Kotzebue man charged in murder of Ashley Johnson-Barr

A 41-year-old Kotzebue man has been charged with murder and sex crimes in the death of a young girl who went missing and whose body was found eight days later on the tundra.

Documents filed on Sept. 24 in Superior Court in Kotzebue by the Alaska Office of Special Prosecutions charge Peter Wilson with murder, kidnapping and sexual abuse of the child, 10-year-old Ashley Johnson-Barr, who went missing on Sept. 6 after playing with her friends in Rainbow Park in Kotzebue.

He was to be arraigned on the state charges Sept. 25 in Kotzebue.

Wilson entered a plea of not guilty on Sept. 21 in federal court in Anchorage to charges of making false statements to the FBI in relation to the child’s death. A jury trial date on those charges had been set for Nov. 19.

Following her disappearance, a massive search was conducted, involving local, state and federal authorities, and dozens of volunteers. She was found deceased and an autopsy revealed signs of trauma, including strangulation and sexual abuse, state authorities said.

Subsequent DNA testing, autopsy and other investigative steps led prosecutors to file new charges announced on Sept. 24.

“A close working relationship with our federal partners allowed swift action in this matter,” said state Criminal Division Director John Skidmore. “We will continue discussions moving forward to ensure both offices can pursue charges to hold the offender accountable and make Alaska a safer place.”

Charging documents said that Wilson sexually assaulted the child, then concealed her cell phone, which he told authorities he had found on the ground in Kotzebue.

The day after Johnson-Barr went missing, Wilson was sleeping at the home of a friend, Julie Jorgensen, when she heard a phone ringing in Wilson’s jacket pocket and recognized Johnson-Barr’s full name on the phone screen. She contacted the child’s parents, who notified police.

Jorgensen told police that when Wilson arrived at her home late on the evening of Sept. 6 that he seemed intoxicated and passed out soon after arriving.

Charging documents also note that Wilson denied having anything to do with Johnson-Barr’s disappearance, but admitted knowing her and her mother most of his life.

If convicted, he faces up to 99 years in prison for murder in the first degree and kidnapping.