Julia O'Malley

Julia O'Malley writes a general interest column about life and politics in Anchorage and around Alaska. She grew up in Anchorage and has worked at the ADN on and off as a columnist and reporter since 1996. She came back full time as a reporter in 2005.

As a reporter, she covered the court system and wrote extensively about life in Anchorage, including big changes in the city's ethnic and minority communities.

In 2008, she won the Scripps-Howard Foundation's Ernie Pyle award for the best human-interest writing in America. She has also written for the Oregonian, the Juneau Empire and the Anchorage Press.

E-mail her at jomalley@adn.com.

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Man's violence erupts in a Midtown street

The kids on Eide Street move in a noisy pack with their fluorescent squirt guns and their little bikes. There are boys and girls, Filipino and Vietnamese, Mexican and Samoan, Alaska Native and white, 20 kids at least, all grade-school age, living stacked up in the bleached multi-plexes between 33rd and 34th Avenues.

On Monday, one kid in the pack, a quiet 7-year-old girl, was missing, a victim of something vicious and brutal from the world of adults.

"Am-Marie," said a boy in a striped shirt when I asked if he knew the girl's name. Kids playing nearby in a dusty courtyard got quiet, watching us. They knew her, too. The boy pointed across the street.

He didn't see the big guy beat her until she passed out, he said. He only saw what happened after that, when the police and the ambulance came.

According to Anchorage Police, Am-Marie Martin is in the hospital after Byron Syvinski, 32, bludgeoned her in the head in a random act of violence Sunday afternoon. She had been riding her bike in the driveway of her building when he approached her, police said. He tried to take her bike. When she didn't give it up, he hit her, police said. He kept hitting her after she fell to the ground. He had a cast on his arm, neighbors said. People rushed out and stopped him, neighbors said. But Am-Marie was already unconscious.

Nobody knows what went wrong with Syvinski. He's lived on the street for several years, the neighbors said. People who saw what happened on Sunday said he seemed crazy or high. Police reported he was in a state of "excited delirium." Monday evening he was being evaluated at the hospital. When he gets out, he'll face charges of third- and fourth-degree assault and first-degree robbery.

Court records show he's had run-ins with police over the last few years, including charges for assault, disorderly conduct and weapons theft.

Shortly before the attack, Syvinski was at another house on Eide that belongs to the DelReal family. They had just come back from Costco, Angeline DelReal told me. Svvinski showed up in their driveway and tried to get into their car. They told him to leave and he did.

He came back a little while later and grabbed a bag from DelReal's teenage son, Jonathan. He asked Jonathan if he had the car keys. Angeline's husband, Roberto, came outside and told Syvinski to go. Syvinski hit him in the face and kept hitting him, according to the family and the police. Angeline got on the phone to the police. Jonathan got a fishing pole case and started smacking Syvinski to get him to leave his father alone.

"I just kept hitting him in the head," he told me.

Finally, Syvinski took off down the block. Roberto wasn't seriously injured. Angeline watched Syvinski from her house, telling dispatchers what he was doing. She saw him walk up on Am-Marie, a playmate of her children. She saw him try to take her bike. She saw the little girl resist. Then she saw him strike her. It happened fast.

"He hits her! He hits her!" she said she screamed into the phone. Right about then, about half the street, including all the DeReals, came running.

Am-Marie lay on the ground, limp. Then she came to and started to cry, Angeline said.

"She was hit right in the temple," Angeline said. "She had a really big knot on her head."

George Berroyer, a grandfather of six who lives in Syvinski's building, flies kites for the neighborhood kids. Just the week before, he'd flown a kite with Am-Marie, he said.

"She is a cheerful girl," he said.

Monday, he wished he looked out on the street just a few minutes earlier Sunday. He didn't see until all the men surrounded Syvinski. That's when he got a glimpse of Am-Marie. He saw Am-Marie's mother. The beating was brutal, he said.

"I got to the corner and I physically threw up," he said. "That hasn't happened since Vietnam."

Police showed up. Syvinski was acting crazy, said Jennifer Gould, who works at a hostel on the street. They had to restrain his hands and his feet.

"He kept screaming at the cops, 'Just blow my f-ing head off,'" she said.

When he got in the cruiser, he kicked the door, she said. The ambulance came next and took Am-Marie away. The police took Syvinski.

Angeline DelReal said Syvinski lived in the building across the street for seven or eight years. He had kids, but they don't live there now.

"My kids used to go over there and say, 'Hey, could you fix my bike?' and he would do it," she said. But then he started acting strange. "The last few years, I guess he was just on a path that was a bad one."

Everybody on the block lets their children play outside. All the adults keep an eye on them. Now some of them are scared, she said.

I knocked on Am-Marie's family's door, in the basement of one of the buildings, but I didn't expect them to be there. A neighbor, Suzanne Belanger, was standing out on her balcony. She told me she was a good friend of the family. She'd been in touch with them at the hospital. Things were still touch and go. She kept looking at the spot in the driveway, right behind her car, where everything happened. There was no way to explain why Syvinski's problems bled out into the neighborhood, onto a little girl. The senselessness of it stung me just like it stung the people on the street.

Syvinski was a big guy, Belanger continued. A man standing on the upstairs balcony above us, listening in, stretched his arms wide. A big guy, he repeated.

"And she's a shy little thing," Belanger said. "Just a little, little thing."

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