The airline worker authorities say stole a commercial plane Friday at Sea-Tac International Airport before crashing on a Puget Sound island is a former Alaskan and 2008 graduate of Wasilla High School.
Richard “Beebo” Russell, 29, had been a star athlete for the Wasilla Warriors, competing in football, track and field and wrestling, according to the Anchorage Daily News. Russell had been a ground agent for Horizon Air, apparently acting alone in the hijacking, and died in the crash after performing dangerous loops in the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400.
Matt Tunseth reported on Russell’s Alaska ties for the Anchorage Daily News and spoke to Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove.
GROVE: When did you first put it together that Russell had connections to Alaska?
TUNSETH: Well, I had worked at the (Mat-Su Valley) Frontiersmen newspaper out in Wasilla, so I recognized his name when I heard it. He was a fairly prominent athlete out there.
So I knew who he was. I didn’t know him, but it was certainly a name that I recognized. I had watched him play football. He was a big kid. He was fast. He was a pretty good player. He played fullback, running back for Wasilla. I think he scored six touchdowns his senior year. The kind of energetic, fast, big running back on their football team.
GROVE: You talked to some of his former coaches and I want to ask you about that in a second. But what else did you learn about his time in Alaska? I think I read that his family moved to Wasilla when he was kind of young, is that right?
TUNSETH: That’s my understanding, and I know that he grew up in Wasilla, at least spent a lot of his time as a kid in Wasilla.
He attended both Wasilla High School and Teeland Middle School out in Wasilla as well.
GROVE: Over the weekend you reached out to his former coaches, and what did they tell you about him?
TUNSETH: Yeah. I talked to his former track coach and his former wrestling coach. The wrestling coach, Shawn Hayes, has been there for many, many years. He remembered him as a tough kid; a hard worker is how he was described. Shawn told me that he was shocked to hear that Beebo had done something like this.
His track coach, a guy named Gary Howell, has also been at Wasilla for quite some time, and he painted a picture of an outgoing kid, somebody who was liked at Wasilla. The way that he sort of described it was this was the kind of kid that you’d give a high-five to in the hallway, even if you didn’t know him. Just a very exuberant, fun-loving, kind of popular student athlete at Wasilla. And he also, like Coach Hayes, described being kind of utterly shocked that be doing anything like this. It was a surprise to everyone at seems.
GROVE: His family described him in a statement as a big, gentle guy. We actually have some tape of a sort of press conference from a family friend:
MIKE MATHEWS: On behalf of the family, we are stunned and heartbroken. It may seem difficult for those watching at home to believe, but Beebo was a warm, compassionate man. It is impossible to encompass who he was in a press release. He was a faithful husband, a loving son and a good friend.
GROVE: And Matt, it sounds like you reached out to his family.
TUNSETH: We weren’t able to get in touch with any of the family members, and they just elected to handle it with that statement, kind of the same things that I had heard from other people, which was the this seemed very out of character for him, that he they would like him to be remembered for how he lived his life, as opposed to this incident, which was that he was very well-liked, very outgoing, fun guy to be around.
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