Over the past year, I’ve written a few articles about Alaska’s troubled foster care system and the havoc it has wrought on a Mat-Su family whose mother is “AK Mom.”

My article on April 3 specifically asked Governor Dunleavy to put an end to the carnage caused by the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) – an agency he is responsible for overseeing. All Dunleavy needed to do was pick up the phone and give the order. He not only failed to fulfill his duty under Article III of the Constitution, but a few months later he set a new low in the annals of Alaska governors.

In October, Palmer Judge Kristen Stohler finally forced OCS to return 14-year-old “Lawrence” to AK Mom. Like his older brother “George,” Lawrence has been diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome, autism, ADHD, and disruptive behavior disorder. AK Mom, a registered nurse, also adopted Lawrence shortly after he was born.

Lawrence was 11 years old when OCS started putting his family through a living hell. He was not only pried away from his loving mom, a comfortable home, a good school, a friendly church, and familiar surroundings, but he was separated from his four siblings including his biological sister. For the next 922 nights Dunleavy made him sleep in unfamiliar places surrounded by strangers.

In his real home with a loving mother, 13th birthdays were not only a special day, but a special week.

A week or two here, a month or two there – always on the move. Altogether, Dunleavy forced Lawrence to stay in 26 different structures located from Fairbanks to Juneau. These disparate structures had one common dominant theme – Lawrence was not loved within.

Some of these places might have looked like homes on the outside, but on the inside Lawrence discovered they were occupied by cold and heartless people. They were in it for the money. In at least one house he was fed scraps, in another an adult occupant introduced him to and sold him weed. His personal belongings and money were also stolen.

Sent Away From a Birthday Party

The structure that Dunleavy forced Lawrence to spend his 13th birthday deserves special mention. The family occupying the house chose not to celebrate his birthday – no cake, no gifts, no party. Nothing, despite several attempts by AK Mom and her attorney to make sure the foster family did something special for Lawrence.

Instead, the very next day, the family had a birthday party for one of their own children. When Lawrence tried to join in, he was sent down to the basement where the family made him stay. He later came upstairs a second time to try to join in the fun and was told again to go down to the basement. He stormed out of the house.

That day ended with Lawrence getting a couple of miles away from the house before being picked up by the police and taken to a hospital. He spent a few days in the emergency department on a mental health hold before being transferred upstairs to the pediatric ward. A couple of days after that he tried to run around inside the hospital, but staff responded by holding him down against his will and injecting him with drugs. For the entire week, Dunleavy denied AK Mom the opportunity to visit her son.

In his real home with a loving mother, 13th birthdays were not only a special day, but a special week. Lawrence had experienced the joy in the celebration of that special time on three occasions with his older siblings, so try to imagine how let down he felt when his turn came. Dunleavy made sure Lawrence wouldn’t get to experience that anticipated joy. Instead, from now on, any time Lawrence hears of a 13th birthday, a nightmare memory will be triggered.

Face Down on Gravel with a Knee in the Back

Other structures where Lawrence slept had locks on the doors with guards lurking nearby – a motel in Fairbanks, a lockdown hospital, even a room in a fishing lodge north of Fairbanks. Lawrence was held at these places for days, sometimes stretching into weeks. An innocent boy was treated as a caged prisoner.

Lawrence escaped one of those structures by jumping out a second story window. The security guard was able to catch him because Lawrence injured his ankle in the jump. The guard caught up to him on a gravel field and tackled him. While Lawrence was face down the guard, a former cop, twisted his arm behind his back and pressed her knee into his back. Almost George Floyd like.

In my opinion, Dunleavy’s conduct in the AK Mom affair qualifies for the Legislature’s impeachment of a governor under Section 20 of Article II.

Lawrence loves to play baseball. The last time he got to play organized baseball was in Little League four years ago. His older sister was a teammate. Had they been together during the covid lockdown, the baseball games would have continued. Lawrence, his sister and their siblings would have just grabbed their gloves, a bat and a ball and gone out into the safety of their backyard at their loving home. They used to do that for hours when they were a family during summer months. Just kids being kids, running around, laughing and enjoying the good things in life.

That all ended abruptly when Dunleavy broke up the family. The family’s laughter stopped, and their pain began to grow.

Homeless Shelters Make Good Foster Homes

It’s the last two structures that Dunleavy put Lawrence into that prompted me to write another article about AK Mom.

Homeless shelters for 42 consecutive nights. First in Juneau and then in Anchorage – the latter reported to be the target of traffickers. But Dunleavy stooped even lower. Instead of admitting he made a grotesque mistake breaking up AK Mom’s family, our governor fought to keep Lawrence in the Anchorage homeless shelter. He ultimately failed in that objective but did succeed in keeping Lawrence vulnerable to traffickers for three more weeks.

In my opinion, Dunleavy’s conduct in the AK Mom affair qualifies for the Legislature’s impeachment of a governor under Section 20 of Article II. The devil is in the details below and hopefully most readers will agree with me that Dunleavy needs to go before he puts more of our children in harm’s way.

Lawrence was flown to Juneau on August 3 to stay in a new “home.” That placement lasted only four weeks before Dunleavy transferred him to a Juneau homeless shelter on September 1, right before the Labor Day holiday. Lawrence was there for almost two weeks until September 12, when Dunleavy had him flown back to Anchorage to be placed in a homeless shelter there.

During his stay at the Anchorage homeless shelter and despite being diagnosed with autism and a handful of disorders, Lawrence was free to go anywhere he wanted without supervision. He did not attend school. Instead, he roamed Anchorage by himself via buses, checking out all that Anchorage has to offer. He covered the city, from Diamond Center to Tikahtnu Commons, visiting stores and wandering along streets.

When a governor fights to keep a vulnerable child in a homeless shelter, all Alaskans are harmed by a crisis of executive judgment that has undoubtedly infected many other issues.

On September 21, his court appointed attorney filed papers in the Palmer court requesting that Judge Stohler order OCS to send Lawrence home. His attorney informed the judge what was going on, specifically stating the area surrounding the Anchorage homeless shelter was targeted by “pimps and traffickers.”

Shockingly, Dunleavy’s attorneys filed papers opposing the motion. They claimed OCS was acting reasonably. The attorneys had the audacity to state that the homeless shelter “meets his basic needs.”

They blamed the situation on Lawrence – saying he was uncooperative with their efforts. Finally, on October 13 and under orders by Judge Stohler, OCS drove Lawrence to his home, back to his loving mother after 922 lonely nights. AK Mom and her son are one heck of a resilient pair.

A Respectful Kid Happy to Finally Be Home

I had the opportunity recently to talk with Lawrence. He came across as a very polite kid. In response to my questions, he said a lot of “yes sirs” and “no sirs.” His mother taught him that – not OCS or the 26 places they dumped him into. My sense is that Lawrence responds well to love, but try to bully him or disrespect him and he won’t back down. Like AK Mom, he carries that true Alaskan spirit deep within.

Lawrence is happy to be home. On a scale of 1-10, he said his happiness to be home was a 10. Wanting his siblings to join him at home was another 10. But when I asked him to rate his experience over the last two and a half years under OCS care, he responded “less than one.”

His siblings desperately want to come home too. His autistic brother George has bounced around 21 structures. The five siblings have been moved an aggregate 77 times as of this writing. To end this nightmare, state officials would have to admit they made a terrible mistake. But they won’t.

When government officials reach the point where they say a foster kid should stay in a homeless shelter instead of a loving home, they’ve proven themselves incompetent for public service. Dunleavy can’t shift the blame to his subordinates — he personally knows about the family’s horror story.

AK Mom has spoken with Dunleavy at multiple public events in 2023, most recently on August 22 when Dr. Ben Carson visited Anchorage. She has even spoken with Mrs. Dunleavy through an introduction by a mutual friend. On August 29, AK Mom had a sit-down meeting with Deputy Chief of Staff Rachel Blysma.

Just three days later, Lawrence began his 42 consecutive night stay in two homeless shelters.

Legislative Plea

Alaska legislators, you have a huge problem on your hands. Some of you acknowledged that to me during the last legislative session. We don’t need more laws on the books protecting children – they already exist. What we do need, though, is an executive branch that follows the law and a judiciary that calls them out when they don’t. Structural changes are necessary.

The law clearly states that the desires of our children are to be given consideration in foster care situations. There have been numerous court hearings over the last 30 months but not once was Lawrence given the chance to tell the judge what he wanted. There are other important laws that the judges overseeing this disastrous affair have not followed. Their deference to the gaggle of State attorneys who care more about winning than keeping our children safe is sickening.

I brought this story to the attention of several legislators last session. Not only did they let it slide, but then they confirmed acting Commissioner Kim Kovol, who bears responsibility also. They also didn’t advance the proposed legislation by Senator Shower and Representative Rauscher for judicial reform and the amendments that I proposed for family courts.

When a governor fights to keep a vulnerable child in a homeless shelter, all Alaskans are harmed by a crisis of executive judgment that has undoubtedly infected many other issues.

No party membership, plank or pork can be worth defending the governor any longer. If you continue to support Dunleavy, then you support endangering our children to traffickers. It’s that simple.

The views expressed here are those of the author.

OPINION: Dunleavy fights to keep 14-year-old autistic boy in homeless shelter targeted by traffickers

David Ignell
David Ignell was born and raised in Juneau, where he currently resides. He holds a law degree from University of San Diego and formerly practiced as a licensed attorney in California. He has experience as a volunteer analyst for the California Innocence Project, and is currently a forensic journalist and author of a recent book on the Alaska Grand Jury.


  • DaveMaxwell says:

    For this and numerous other atrocities governor dunleavy not only should be removed at a minimum, but ought to be tried for negligence, and abuse of power! Multiple years of imprisonment!

  • Dee Cee says:

    Pause button: can we get some evidence to back this claim up: “ In at least one house he was fed scraps, in another an adult occupant introduced him to and sold him weed.”

  • V says:

    Wait. Why did these kids get taken away from AkMom to begin with? Why wasn’t her background in nursing or her previous experience in parenting adequate? This opinion based article leaves some things out.

  • David Ignell says:

    V – my initial article about AK Mom and her family was published by Must Read Alaska on February 18, 23. It explains the family’s background. Subsequent articles about the family’s ongoing OCS nightmare were published in MRAK on March 3, April 3, April 23, and on June 5. You can find them on that site if you do a search of my name. The current article about Lawrence picks up where the others left off.

  • Y. D says:

    Thank you David for another article high lighting the inability for this administration to admit they made a mistake. I have worked in child protective services during my almost 30 years in the social work field. This is not excusable in any form or fashion, and victim blaming has already started and is disgusting.
    Defending this governor is only about politics not about defending the most vulnerable in our society. Just this example demonstrates that OCS and the Governor’s office are rotten to the core. Immediate intervention by the people of Alaska is urgent to ensure the welfare and safety of Alaskan Children.

  • DaveMaxwell says:

    Time for a revolution!!!! This is a legitimate reason to march for justice! Not hamas, Palestine, or antisemitism. These children are abused and imprisoned, by our own state, led by our own governor!!! Do you need more evidence? Fine , get it! Then act like a caring adult and do what is appropriate to protect these children!!!

  • Mv says:

    Thank you David for all you do, And continue to do.

  • JANI says:

    Can you give us a quick synopsis so we all don’t have to go researching with time we don’t have? Would have been good for a recap to have been included in this article too.

  • Louise says:

    I have been following this and it sadly shows how the OCS office and the Governor have failed this family. Thank you for putting this out for Alaskans to see the issues that need to be fixed.

  • ValleyKid says:

    If Dunleavey intervened, he would be breaking the law. If OCS told Dunleavey ANYTHING personal about this case, they would be breaking the law. Not sure what people think Dunleavey can do in a case like this… At most he can request an audit. And guess what? OCS would likely PASS the audit.

    • DaveMaxwell says:

      This kid is being abused! Groomed in drug use, exposed to sex trafficking! Your love affair with dunleavy is obviously obscured your ability to see straight! I absolutely want the best for these kids, in contrast you seem to believe the system has some kind of god like impenetrable barrier! We the people have the power to demand our government get back in servant mode and we must enforce our rights as given by our creator!

    • David Ignell says:

      Dunleavy is the chief executive officer of Alaska. If he can do something about an Attorney General sexting an adult, he can certainly do something about OCS employees who abuse their power and harm Alaska’s innocent children. He’s obligated under Article III, Section 16 for the faithful execution of our laws.

  • John J Otness says:

    Dunleavy is only a shell that is controlled by the pedophile overlords…. nothing more nothing less.

  • Elizabeth says:

    What bothers me the most is that Showers,McCabe and many other representatives voted Dunleavy back in office. There were at least two good alternatives that were strong conservatives. We’re are reaping the consequences of fear of change

  • Elizabeth says:

    What bothers me the most is that Showers,McCabe and many other representatives voted Dunleavy back in office. There were at least two good alternatives that were strong conservatives. We’re are reaping the consequences of fear of change