Story last updated at 7:58 PM on
Friday Aug 3rd

Memorial announced for Sheldon Purcell

A memorial celebration of life for Sheldon Purcell is at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007, at McNeil Canyon Elementary School, Mile 12 East End Road.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Young man dies; cause unknown


A Homer man died early Sunday morning, July 29, of unknown causes after falling unconscious at a party at a Marimac Avenue home near Mile 11 East End Road. Killed was Sheldon Purcell, 18, the only child of Melon Purcell, a school teacher, and retired Homer Volunteer Fire Chief Robert Purcell.

  Photo by Linda Smogor
Sheldon Purcell became unconscious on a deck outside the home and had difficulty breathing, his father said.

Friends at the party called 911 about 1:15 a.m. and drove Sheldon Purcell to Fritz Creek General Store where they and Alaska State Trooper Derek Loop started CPR. Loop said the friends told him Purcell quit breathing about 30 seconds before Loop met them. He saw no obvious signs of injuries or trauma on Purcell, Loop said.

Loop did CPR until emergency medical technicians on duty at the Homer Volunteer Fire Department arrived at Fritz Creek and took over treatment. EMTs transported Purcell to South Peninsula Hospital. He was pronounced dead at 2:18 a.m.

The circumstances of the death remain under investigation, said Sgt. Tom Dunn, head of the Anchor Point Post, E Detachment.

The Alaska medical examiner, Dr. Franc Fallico, performed an autopsy Monday in Anchorage, but did not determine the exact cause of death. Fallico said Sheldon Purcell did not die of traumatic injuries or apparent natural causes. Toxicology tests were done, but results won't be ready for at least several weeks, Fallico said.

Purcell went to the party after finishing his shift about 11 p.m. Saturday night at Wasabi's Restaurant, where he worked as a cook, his father said.

Troopers said they have been frustrated in getting accurate information from witnesses at the party including information that could have helped EMTs treat Purcell.

"It was appalling to me how he (Loop) had to yank, verbally draw things out to provide assistance, because the first fear was 'Oh my goodness, we're going to get in trouble' not that basically he (Purcell) was dying," Dunn said.

Loop said most people he saw or talked to appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

"They're everywhere on their stories," Loop said.

No witnesses said they saw Purcell take drugs at the party.

Troopers said witnesses said there had been drug use at the party, including cocaine, psilocybin mushrooms and prescription drugs.

"There's a lot of drug suspicion," Loop said. "There's a big cloud of suspicion of drugs there."

Most of the people at the party appeared to be in their teens to early 20s, Loop said. There did not appear to be any responsible adults present, troopers said.

"What you've got here is a bunch of children wanting to make adult decisions, and clearly they don't have that ability," Dunn said.

Troopers have not yet made any criminal charges.

Sheldon Purcell would have turned 19 on Aug. 16. He graduated from the Raven Correspondence School with the Yukon-Koyukuk School District in 2006. While finishing high school he also attended Kachemak Bay Campus. He started his second semester at Sierra College, Rockland, Calif., his father said. He'd started working as a cook this summer.

"Sheldon seemed to have a natural instinct for cooking. He was very much enjoying it," Robert Purcell said.

Acting fire chief Dean Thoemke taught Sheldon Purcell in EMT and wildland firefighting classes.

"This was a good kid. A lot of potential," Thoemke said.

Melon Purcell is a teacher at McNeil Canyon Elementary School and a former Homer News production assistant. Robert Purcell joined the fire department in 1979 and retired as chief in 1999.

"As a department, we're coming together to give whatever support the Purcells need," Thoemke said. "It's a great loss to all of us."

Memorial services will be announced later, Robert Purcell said.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at