Wudan Yan | Longreads | December 2019 | 21 minutes (5,400 words)
Around dinnertime last Christmas Eve, the Eyre family threw on their parkas, stuffed hand warmers into their gloves and pant pockets, slung strings of Christmas lights over their jackets, and went for a walk.
Outside their tri-level house on the northern side of Fairbanks, Alaska, they turned on to Farmers Loop Road, one of the main arteries of the city, and walked along the shoulder. The frozen snow crunched beneath their shoes. It was so cold — roughly 15 below — that your breath billowed back toward you even before you fully exhaled. Cars zoomed by, likely on the way to the homes of loved ones, or completing a last-minute run to the grocery store. Twenty-nine-year-old Samantha Eyre and her younger sister, Kassandra, walked in the front with a banner. On it, their mother, Jean, painted on the shadows of six people, a bear, a moose, and the words #KeepWalkingWithCody.
Christmas is meant to be an evening of gathering and celebration, but it’s taken on a new meaning for the Eyres: Exactly one year prior, police officers shot and killed the family’s youngest and only son, 20-year-old Cody Dalton Eyre.
Cody was having a bad day. He felt suicidal. He got drunk. He brought a gun with him — not uncommon, since many people carry in Alaska. He decided to go for a walk to clear his head. And when Jean called 911, hoping the police could calm him down and bring him home, the opposite happened.
In the months after Cody’s death, the Eyres have received scant information from law enforcement on what exactly happened that night. Cody’s death has raised not only questions for the Eyre family, but other concerns about how law enforcement officers do their jobs. Why is it that police are the first responders to mental health calls? In this case, why did they respond to someone going through a mental health crisis with deadly force? Why has law enforcement been slow to release any public information on this case? And in a place where tension between Natives and law enforcement run high, how could the incidence of these deadly interactions be reduced, or better yet, stopped?
On this walk, Cody’s family now was retracing his last steps, in memoriam. Read more…