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Story Last modified at 8:57 p.m. on Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chugiak senior dies on Knik camping trip
Authorities still investigating cause of death

Alaska Star

A 17-year-old incoming senior at Chugiak High whose parents are both longtime local teachers died May 28 on a camping trip with friends along the Knik River, authorities said.

School district officials identified the teenager as Joel Fletcher Armstrong.

Armstrong was reportedly camping with a large group of teenagers who intended to spend one night out at a campsite near Knik River Road, about 10 miles south of Palmer.

The others woke up Saturday morning and found Armstrong not breathing, Alaska State Troopers said. They drove him to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Troopers said they got word at about 7:15 a.m.

The state medical examiner's office is investigating the cause of death. A troopers spokeswoman said the group had alcohol with them. But authorities won't be able to say what, if any, role alcohol played in Armstrong's death until an autopsy is completed, spokeswoman Megan Peters said.

Easily accessible but far from town, the gravel beaches along the Knik are popular camping and party spots for young people from Anchorage and the Mat-Su. The area was crowded with campers over the holiday weekend.

The troopers on Monday were still investigating how the group of teenagers "came into the possession of alcohol" and how much alcohol they had, Peters said.

Armstrong's parents are teachers with the Anchorage School District, superintendent Carol Comeau said. Wayne Armstrong teaches physical education at Birchwood ABC Elementary; Linda Armstrong is an English Language Learner teacher at Eagle River Elementary, Comeau said.

Comeau said Armstrong, who went by the name "Fletcher," was the youngest child in his family.

The district on Monday was pursuing the use of Chugiak High for a memorial service next week though nothing had been confirmed, she said.

A family friend who answered the phone at the Armstrong home Monday said the family chose not to comment.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, June 1, 2011.