Stanley Cienda, 88, said every day when she heard someone pounding at the door of a Chugatchview apartment in Fairview’s public housing complex for the elderly one afternoon in late April. I had just returned from jogging.
“I can open the door,” Cienda said. “And someone grabbed me and bit my neck.”
He found himself wrestling on the floor with a stranger, a much younger man who was biting and kicking him with heavy shoes.
“I knew this person was really dangerous,” said Cienda this week, a nifty elder wearing an Alaska Brewing Company sweatshirt and sweatpants. “I could feel his teeth on my eyebrows, head, everything.”
After looking like Cienda for the first time in a long time, he was able to escape from the perpetrators and scramble the hallways.
By the time police arrested 24-year-old Justin Kunuk, he had attacked four different people in a senior apartment. Cienda was the last one.
Koonuk is currently being charged with assaulting the case. He has also been guilty of public assault since March, resulting from a police officer hitting a man on his face on a sidewalk in Midtown.
According to the April assault indictment, Kunuk went to the Chugachview apartment for a drink in the resident’s room. At some point, this went awry, and Kunuk is said to have grabbed her wand from his host and attacked her with it with another man in her apartment. They were able to push him into the hallway, but Kunuk continued to weep through the building, hitting another man who opened the door before he went upstairs, and knocking on Cienda’s door.
Cienda was the worst injured. He broke his rib and suffered a deep bruise. A few weeks later, a laceration remains on his head and neck. He needs to be tested for a blood-borne disease because the bite broke his skin. Pictures taken in his apartment after the attack show blood lines and even a cooking pot bent in the struggle.
Born in Connecticut, Cienda worked on boats in Louisiana, roamed the country as a machinist, and settled in Alaska over 20 years ago by driving a van. In his 80s, he traveled every summer to backpack all over Europe via the Eurorail Pass. He says he runs the Chester Creek Trail every day, sometimes to Lake Otis. But did a stranger rush into your apartment?
“I’m not a scary person,” he said. “But I knew he was trying to kill me.”
Due to the rampage, elderly residents, one of Anchorage’s largest public housing facilities, are on the edge. Residents say another resident has begun a petition to management raising safety concerns and has been signed by 50 or 60 people so far.
Mary Wolkov is the receptionist at the Anchorage Senior Center, another day center where many Chagak View and Chagak Manor residents spend their time. She describes herself as her longtime friend and advocate of Cienda.
Wolcoff says ChugachView isn’t secure enough. Residents have access to the key card and the doors are locked automatically, but there are plenty of entrances and plenty of opportunities to slip behind the resident without being noticed.
“It’s like there are four or five young men coming there and smoking marijuana in the laundry room,” Walkov said. “They dare to confront the inhabitants, and as you know, the inhabitants are too afraid to confront them.” (Building managers watch videos from hundreds of cameras. However, I could not find any evidence of a person smoking in the laundry room.)
Cienda said someone tore the phone from the wall and stripped the coin machine. In the morning he found a group of people sleeping at the front door of the building. Problems seem to have occurred in the last two years when Sullivan Arena became a mass care facility.
The apartment is owned and operated by Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, a pseudo-government agency that uses federal HUD funds.
Cathystone, director of public housing at the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, says Chugatch View is safe. She said the man who attacked the four seniors was invited to the building — he wasn’t sneaking in.
“We don’t really mandate what guests (residents) can and can’t have. That’s their choice,” she said. “We don’t control it, but we warn people that it can endanger their homes.”
Low-income seniors pay 28% of their income to a one-bedroom apartment in Chugach View or Chugach Manor. The waiting list is formidable: about 827 people are waiting for the spot.
She said there are dedicated real estate managers, maintenance staff, and people in the apartment whose job is only to address the concerns of residents.
“Safety and security are very important to us and to all residents,” she said. “Yes, we take it seriously. We respond quickly and address those concerns. And this is managed.”
In 2007, residents and police expressed concern about drug trafficking, theft, harassment, weapons, and even sexual assault in apartments, according to Daily News reports at the time.
“I usually don’t leave my apartment unless I have Bingo,” a resident told the newspaper.
At that time, the cause was a decrease in the number of elderly people who could live in an apartment. Today, the average age is 68.
Cienda’s friend, receptionist Walcott, said the increase in criminal activity around public housing was a concern for vulnerable people living there. She sees a group of much younger men hanging out in the area as the culprit.
“I wish they saw my grandparents and said,’I don’t want to do this to my grandparents,'” she said.
I couldn’t contact Koonuk for this story. According to court records, his bail was set at $ 2,500, but he remains in Anchorage prison. Cienda says he will appear in all courts.