Personal crisis led to Cheseto’s disappearance

Marko Cheseto woke the day of his disappearance, Nov 6, feeling unhappy. The star track runner from Kenya was having a tough year, and the difficulties were accumulating into one morning.

On Feb 19, his cousin, countryman and teammate, William Ritewiang, committed suicide.

A few weeks later, Cheseto was hospitalized after, what police reports imply, was an attempted suicide. University Police Department Officer John Chu and Roger Frierson responded to a call from the Templewood apartments at 12:05pm on April 2.

Frierson wrote, “When I entered I saw a black male identified as Lemtukei (Cheseto’s legal name) in his bed under a comforter, his head completely covered. Lemtukei was unresponsive so I pulled down the blanket and got him to wake up by shaking him on the shoulder.”

Marko Cheseto at a meet. Courtesy of GoSeawolves.

Frierson called medics from the Anchorage Fire Department. Cheseto fell in an out of consciousness several times while waiting. His roommate and fellow UAA athlete, David Kiplagat, who called 911, then told Officer Chu that Cheseto had spoken with Student Health Services about one hour before.

The reports police released were retracted in parts, and did not directly say whether or not Cheseto received the medication from the Student Health and Counseling Center. The report does mention Georgia DeKeyser, a Psychiatric Nurse Practioner at UAA. DeKeyser had no comment on Cheseto’s situation. Director of Residence Life  Lacy Karpilo, who is described to have had several dealings with Cheseto, was out of town and unavailable to answer questions for this article.

Cheseto recovered from this April incident, and for months everyone thought he was fine.

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Marko Cheseto, Alfred Kangogo, and David Kiplagt give a tour of the Wells Fargo Sports Complex. They appear 7:43.

None of his friends were home when he woke, so Cheseto went to the Commons to finish some homework. But Blackboard was not working. Frustrated, he drove to a friend’s house.

UPD office Virgina Jaksha interviewed Cheseto, and wrote in her report that Cheseto wanted to tell his roommate Alfred Kangogo “how negative he was feeling about his life and how he was having to struggle to get through life,” but Alfred was scheduled to work.

“He told me that he felt like no one had been able to understand how difficult things had been for him, and that everyone basically just said to hang in there,” Jaksha wrote in her report.

Cheseto drove back to the Student Union, tried to log on to Blackboard again, but again it was not working.

At 5:30pm, after shopping at Carrs with his roommate Isaac Kangogo, the pair returned to their apartment to have dinner with some members of their church,

“Geri” Bee and Cyndi Anderson. Bee was the last person to receive a text message from Cheseto. The husband and wife said that Cheseto appeared to be his normal self.

During this meal, Cheseto found that he had no appetite, despite not having any food since that morning.

Isaac had homework to and didn’t want to return to school for the day, so Cheseto went to the commons to study alone.

“Prior to leaving, he was looking around the apartment for his hat, but found an old (blank). He took it and put it in his pocket. Cheseto later told me that it was at this time that he decided to (blank). At UAA, he retrieved his own (blank), and put them all in his pocket,” Jaksha wrote.

After dropping of the vehicle he shares with Alfred, Cheseto walked to Starbucks.

The last person to see him was assistant track coach Tony Tomisch. Tomisch told police that he waved to Cheseto, and that Cheseto was talking to a male he could not identify. When Cheseto was recovering in the hospital days later, he would say that this was more of an acquaintance he had known in a math class two years ago. While talking to this person, he recalls wanting to suddenly be alone.

Where he went during his disappearance

The last security image of him, the one that would be posted on search fliers around campus, was of him walking into the Student Union from the east side.  He wore running shoes, jeans, a light jacket, and a heavier jacket with a hood. He had no gloves or hat.

He started running along Chester Creek Trail.

“He was unsure for a few minutes what he wanted to do, but then decided he would go ahead and (blank) and just “(blank),” Vaksha wrote. “After (blank), he threw his water bottle away and began running.”

Cheseto headed toward East High school.

“He stated that he remembered going up a steep hill, coming back down it, and then taking a left turn off the trail and running into the woods.”

Cheseto passed out at this point.

When he woke up, it was snowing and a tree was above him. He was in a small clearing. The snow had completely buried his legs.

“He said he tried to stand up and he couldn’t, and that he was unable to yell or scream for help.” After some 25 minutes, he pulled himself up using a tree for support. He walked in place, trying to gain more mobility. Throughout this time he could not feel his legs.

Cheseto heard some cars, and began walking towards the sounds.

“He stated that there was a lot of snow and he kept falling down.”

He found a clearer trail, and walked up the hill. At its peak, he recognized the area as APU.  The nearest building he could reach was the Spring Hills Suites.

The night manager of the Spring Hills Hotel, Glen Graham, recognized Cheseto as the missing student from TV. According to Graham, Cheseto entered the lobby then quickly fell to the floor. A maintenance worker and Graham moved him to a fireplace and placed a blanket over him before calling 911.

UPD Officer Marica Fischer responded to the scene. She entered the lobby and immediately recognized Cheseto. Fischer wrote in her police report,

“Lemtukei appeared to be extremely hypothermic. Lemutkei had a pale color to his skin and he was shaking violently. The hands of Lemutkei appeared to be frost bitten and were swollen to about twice what a man of his size should have….his shoes appeared to be covered in ice.”

Fischer later noted that,

“The APD officer asked (blank) and Lemtukei said, “(blank). I asked if he was (blank) and he didn’t reply. The other officer then asked if was (blank) and Lemtukei replied, “yeah.” When asked how much (blank) he couldn’t remember.”

Days later, talking to police in the hospital, Cheseto remembers being shocked when hotel workers told him it was Wednesday morning.

“He figured it was only Monday” Jaksha wrote.

Photo of Cheseto that appeared on most search fliers.

The fund for Cheseto

Cheseto’s disappearance brought local, national, and even global concern. Director of UAA Athletics Steve Cobb said that they received calls from private and public organizations from New York and Texas asking how they could help Cheseto. Due to the “overwhelming” number of inquires, the office set up a fund for Cheseto. Whether he will need it for medical bills is not yet known, Cobb said.

Media in the UK and Kenya picked up the story. The Kenyan Embassy called asking “lots of specific questions.”

According to Cobb, Cheseto is working with his professors to finish his this semester’s courses. He should be able to graduate on time this May.

“He’s becoming more engaged all the time, he’s not interested in hiding out,” Cobb said.