ST. GEORGE — Kristy Manzanares was excited to board the ship in Seattle Sunday to begin a seven-day cruise vacation filled with glacier-carved fjords, forested islets and quaint ports along Alaska’s famed Inside Passage, her friends said.
But what started as an exciting family vacation aboard the Emerald Princess Cruise ship, ended a horrific nightmare when the St. George real estate agent and mother of three was murdered by her husband of more than 15 years in what the FBI described as a domestic dispute.
Kenneth Ray and Kristy Lee Manzanares, both 39 of Santa Clara, were on the cruise with their three daughters, ranging in age from 13 to 22 years old, along with several extended family members.
The couple was booked into two adjoining cabins, D726 and D728, a 462-square-foot mini-suite with a seating area and balcony located on Dolphin Deck. The ship was carrying 3,400 passengers and 1,100 crew members.
Three days into the cruise, Kristy Manzanares was found murdered in her cabin as the cruise ship traveled between Ketchikan and Juneau Tuesday night, according to a criminal complaint by FBI Special Agent Michael L. Watson.
The night of the murder
St. George resident Natalie Beckstrom was on the cruise with her husband, four children and extended family members, many of whom had met Kristy Manzanares and her family the morning before the cruise during a continental breakfast provided by their shared hotel in Seattle.
Beckstrom was watching a show on the ship Tuesday night when an urgent announcement boomed over the ship’s intercom at around 9 p.m., Beckstrom told St. George News during a phone interview from the ship.
“It’s kind of ironic because we were at a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery dinner on the ship – not a dinner, it was a play – and the captain, or one of the crew members, came on the intercom and said, ‘We need all medical and security to come to Deck 9,’” Beckstrom said, adding, “He sounded a little breathless as he was talking.”
When Beckstrom got up to check on her kids who were in a play area on an upper deck, a family member asked her, “Don’t you think that’s part of the play?”
“I said, ‘Oh yeah, duh.’ So, that’s kind of what everybody in the room was thinking was that it was just part of the play,” Beckstrom said. “So, you know, we all just kind of sat down and went on with the play.”
However, a pager went off for one of the youngest children in the group to be checked on and Beckstrom’s brother-in-law left the show to check on her.
“As he was walking up the stairs to check on his daughter, when he got to about Floor 9,” Beckstrom said, “there was a little girl crying pretty hard wrapped in a blanket and she was being held by a woman, which we think is her grandma.”
After checking on his daughter, Beckstrom said her brother-in-law was on his way back down when he saw security personnel swarming Floor 9.
“Then, there was another 13-year-old girl standing there wrapped in a blanket, just sobbing,” Beckstrom said. “And, right then, a man came out from the hallway where the room is that they were staying in. He had on jeans and a white tank top and he was covered in blood from like the waist down, and he said to the woman holding the little girl, ‘It doesn’t look good.’ And so, at that point, the 13-year-old just lost it – she just started sobbing, ‘I want my mommy. I want my mommy.’”
The way I understand it is, their youngest and some other girl, who was pretty young, were in the room and then he came in and started, you know, yelling at her, and they started arguing pretty intensely, and those little girls ran out of the room to get help. I’m guessing they were running to get other family members to come help, but these cruise ship doors, they have like a hinge on them that when you walk out, they automatically shut and they lock so nobody could get in, and I know there were people trying to get in because they could hear them in there just arguing and screaming at each other and, at that point, that is when I’m pretty sure security was called.
Emerald Princess security and medical personnel responded to the incident in the couple’s room, cabin D726, at approximately 9:03 p.m., according to the criminal complaint filed with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
People surrounding the couple’s cabin, including a couple whose room overlooked their balcony, reported loud screaming, Beckstrom said, noting, “all of them said that they were in there just screaming at each other, like it was loud. Lots of people were out on their balconies watching and listening.”
Security was notified after a family member had entered the couple’s cabin and observed Kenneth Manzanares with blood on his hands and clothing while Kristy Manzaneres was lying on the floor covered in blood with a “severe head wound,” according to the criminal complaint. Blood was reportedly spread throughout the room on multiple surfaces.
When the family member asked Kenneth Manzanares what had happened, he allegedly replied, “She would not stop laughing at me,” according to the complaint.
The family member then observed Kenneth Manzanares grab his wife’s body and drag her toward a balcony in the cabin, the FBI report stated. The family member grabbed the woman’s ankles and pulled her back into the cabin.
“I did hear that after he realized he had killed her and he was trying to throw her body off and the family member stopped him, then he went and tried to jump off (the ship) – I did hear that from multiple people that were out on their balcony watching it,” Beckstrom said.
Approximately an hour and a half after the captain made the initial announcement calling for security on the ship, Beckstrom said the captain made a second announcement.
“He came back on and just said, ‘There’s no need to worry. Everybody is safe. Just continue on and enjoy your cruise,’” Beckstrom said. “Well, of course, everyone’s wondering what the heck happened and there’s a lot of people that witnessed the arguing, the yelling and people running around with blood on them because this was a large family from St. George, it wasn’t just the husband and wife and their kids. They were here with family so there were multiple cabins and multiple people, and it sounds like there were other members of the family that, you know, were trying to break the fight up.”
Early the next morning, Beckstrom said the captain announced that they had skipped the Tracy Arm Fjord – one of the cruise’s most popular features – and went straight to Juneau where the FBI was waiting because a Utah woman had been killed in a domestic violence dispute.
“When he said, ‘from Utah,’ we were like ‘holy cow,’” Beckstrom said. “And then, later in the day, we found out she was actually from St. George so that’s when we were like ‘holy cow.’”
The FBI is leading the investigation because the death occurred in U.S. waters. Upon arrival in Juneau, FBI agents boarded the ship and spent the day going floor to floor interviewing passengers, Beckstrom said, noting that passengers were not allowed off the ship until the FBI had cleared the ship around 5 p.m.
Fifteen agents conducted approximately 200 interviews of passengers and crew members during their initial investigation, Marlin Ritzman, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Anchorage office, said during a press conference Thursday.
“The crime scene was a fairly small area,” Ritzman said. “There were several witnesses, several eyewitnesses.”
When a reporter at the conference asked, “Witnesses to the killing itself?” Ritzman replied, “Yes.”
Brian Schroder, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska, said during the press conference that Kenneth Manzanares has been charged generally under 18 U.S. code 1111(a), which he said has both a first- and second-degree murder component. Schroder noted that a more specific charge will come with the indictment.
Schroder said he couldn’t comment on whether there had been any other domestic violence disputes between the couple on the ship prior to the murder. He also said he couldn’t speak to whether Kenneth Manzanares was drunk or on drugs during the commission of the crime nor whether he had any history of domestic violence.
St. George News spoke with several close friends and a family member who have all said they are shocked by the tragedy, noting that the Manzanares were a loving family, the two were high school sweethearts, and this kind of action by Kenneth Manzanares seemed completely out of character.
Kenneth Manzanares has no criminal history in Utah, according to state court records.
The couple, both northern Utah natives, made their way to St. George by way of Southern Utah University in Cedar City where Kristy Manzanares attended school. The couple moved from St. George to their Santa Clara home in August 2011.
Santa Clara-Ivins Police said there is no record of officers responding to the Manzanares’ home.
Kenneth Manzanares, who is behind bars in Juneau, made his first court appearance via teleconference Thursday wearing ankle shackles and an orange jumpsuit.
He appeared to be crying at times before the hearing and near the start, when U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin F. McCoy began speaking, according to the Associated Press. Manzanares dabbed at his eyes and nose with tissues.
During the hearing, McCoy appointed assistant Federal Defender Jamie McGrady to represent Kenneth Manzanares and scheduled a preliminary hearing for Aug. 10.
According to court documents, after considering the information presented at the detention hearing, McCoy concluded that Kenneth Manzanares must be detained pending trial because the government had proven:
- By a preponderance of evidence that no condition or combination of conditions of release will reasonably assure Kenneth Manzanares’ appearance as required.
In addition to any findings made on the record at the hearing, the reasons for detention include the following:
- The weight of evidence against Kenneth Manzanares is strong.
- Kenneth Manzanares is subject to a lengthy period of incarceration if convicted.
- Kenneth Manzanares’ lack of significant community or family ties to the Alaskan district.
- Kenneth Manzanares’ background information unknown or unverified.
Miranda Barnard, a lifelong friend of Kristy Manzanares, released a statement on behalf of the family.
We are devastated over the loss of Kristy. She is the light of our lives — a devoted mother, daughter, sister and friend. Kristy led by example with her giving heart and we are inspired by the legacy of kindness and optimism she has instilled in her children.
We appreciate all of the support shown toward us from friends and family in Carbon and Washington Counties as well as Princess Cruise Lines and Alaska Airlines. We ask for privacy as we mourn together and continue our focus on Kristy’s children. — The Hunt and Manzanares Families
Since Tuesday, an outpouring of support has continued to flood in for the Manzanares children. Two GoFundMe accounts and a bank account have been set up to collect financial donations.
By Sunday afternoon, the family’s GoFundMe account, established by longtime neighbor and family friend Dana Nicholls, had raised $27,662 by 394 people in two days.
According to the GoFundMe page:
Kristy was a smart, kind, beautiful woman that had so much to live for. She had three beautiful daughters that she loved more than anything. Everything she did was for the girls. She wanted so much for them and was only concerned with their happiness. Kristy was always thoughtful and was loved by so many. Her children loved her more than anything, she meant the world to them. She was a hard worker who made her busy schedule work around the needs of her girls. Kristy’s life was tragically taken July 25, 2017. Kristy died a great distance away and her family needs to get her home. Please help the family with her final expenses and to help her 3 beautiful children.
A second GoFundMe account, established by family friend Lesli Greenhalgh, had garnered $5,785 by 71 people.
My dear sweet friend/sister of 17 years, from St. George, Utah, Kristy Manzanares passed away suddenly on July 25, 2017. She leaves behind three beautiful girls. As you can imagine expenses are overwhelming with an unexpected death and her young girls could use some help for funeral, future living expenses, as well as education expenses for the girls. The main concern of this fund is for funeral expenses, then any left over funds will go straight to the girls for other expenses. If you can, please ease the financial pressures for these beautiful girls. No amount is too small. Thank you for your love and support.
A bank account has also been set up for those interested in donating to help support Kristy’s children and her memorial services, Miranda Barnard said. Donations can be made at any Zions Bank under “Kristy Hunt Manzanares donation.”
Princess Cruises representatives put a letter in all of the passenger’s daily planner Thursday morning, Beckstrom said, offering compensation for the lockdown of the ship on Wednesday.
“It said all passengers will get $150 credit that they can use, you know, towards shore excursions or anything on the ship,” Beckstrom said. “Or, if they don’t use it then, if it’s over $25 dollars balance, then they will mail us a check. Then, if we want to book a future cruise with Princess they will offer us 25 percent off of our fare.”
- FBI Criminal Complaint – Kenneth Manzanares
- U.S. District Court Non-Opposed Motion to Change Venue
- Title 18 U.S. Code 1111(a): Murder
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