Community rallies in wake of recent deaths

The deaths of three women over the course of one week has spurred some residents of the central Kenai Peninsula to reach out to support the families left behind.

Soldotna resident Yvonne Anderson, 45, was found dead in the woods near mile 4 of the Kenai Spur Highway the day after Christmas. The following Tuesday, Kenai resident Ruth Holliday, 31, was killed in a two-car accident on Bridge Access Road. Then, 34-year-old Iva “Mitsy” Berninger, who had been missing from her Kenai apartment since Dec. 11, was found dead near a trail in Kenai on Friday.

Tricey Katzenberger runs the organization Bear Hugs, which fills backpacks with clothing, toothbrushes, books and other items to give to children in need. The group put together 12 backpacks for the three women’s children, the last of which were delivered on Saturday, Katzenberger said.

She said backpacks were given to two of Anderson’s four children, and to her grandchild. They were also given to Holliday’s four children and Berninger’s five children.

Katzenberger said her family has ties to Holliday, and that she didn’t hesitate to help when she heard the news.

“I knew that she had kids, and I knew she had young kids and so it wasn’t even a question,” Katzenberger said.

Upon learning of the deaths of Anderson and Berninger, Katzenberger filled the rest of her backpacks for their children as well. Members of the community pitched in with both donated items and monetary contributions, she said.

“This is not the reason we’d like to be handing out backpacks for,” Katzenberger said. “It was hard.”

A GoFundMe webpage has also been set up by Holliday’s sister, Annette Erickson, to raise funds to support her family. Family members will take over care of Holliday’s four children. The plight of the children is one of the main reasons Erickson created the page.

“I felt like they would need money for the funeral and the kids, because the four kids still so young are still very expensive,” Erickson wrote in an email. “I felt like we raised almost $8,000 in just three days because Ruth was very genuine, kind and sweet to others all the time; when she was little, as she grew up, and as an adult — just a good person.”

As of Sunday afternoon, the page had accumulated more than $7,900 for the family and funeral expenses.

Kenai Police said in a previous interview that Holliday’s vehicle crossed over into oncoming traffic before the crash, but that the cause for that is still being investigated. Alaska State Troopers said previously that the cause of death for Anderson could take several weeks to uncover, pending a toxicology test by the State Medical Examiner.

Sgt. Jay Sjogren of the Kenai Police said on Sunday that he was not able to comment on the Berninger case.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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