McCollum’s new bill seeks to solve murder

The bill will aid in unravelling alumnus Joshua Haglund’s mysterious death.

Mitch Anderson

On May 17, 2004, Minnesota native and University alumnus Joshua Haglund was found brutally murdered outside his apartment in Yerevan, Armenia.

Three years later, Haglund’s family still searches for answers to questions surrounding his death. Now, with the help of a new bill introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., they hope to find some of those answers.

McCollum introduced the Joshua Haglund Justice and Peace Act of 2007 earlier this year. The bill calls for the U.S. government to work with Armenia to resolve Haglund’s murder, in addition to allocating $250,000 toward a University learning abroad scholarship established in his honor.

Haglund, 33, taught English in the former Soviet Union republic as part of a program at the state-run Linguistics University in Armenia, an exchange program overseen by the U.S. State Department. He is believed to be the first American citizen to die of violence in Armenia.

“As a parent, it’s something you never really expect to hear,” said Haglund’s mother, Maxine Haglund-Blommer. “I was in shock for about a year and a half after his death, and I’m still not over it completely.”

Haglund graduated from the University in 1995 with a degree in political science, but not before studying abroad in Puerto Rico and taking a year off from school to travel to India and Japan. He spoke Spanish fluently and also dabbled in speaking Japanese, Hindi and Russian.

He moved to Toronto in 2001 where he earned a Masters of Education in second language education at the Institute for Studies in Education.

Job prospects for Haglund slowed in 2001 after a SARS outbreak in Toronto and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It was at that point that Haglund enrolled in the English Language Fellow Program, which sent him to Armenia.

A case gone cold

The passage of time since Haglund’s murder has done little to clear up details surrounding his death. The investigation was formally suspended in 2004 when police failed to produce a suspect.

Haglund was openly gay, and Armenian officials have speculated that his death was a hate crime in a society with a low tolerance for homosexuality.

His family is not so sure. In October 2004, brothers James and John Haglund, along with their mother, traveled to Armenia to seek answers about their brother’s death. During their trip, the family hired a team of prominent Armenian lawyers to further investigate the case.

The lawyers, Tigran and Marina Janoyan, insist that Armenian law enforcement authorities badly mistreated innocent people and deliberately ignored key facts connected to the murder. The lawyers also hinted that police may already know who committed the crime.

In a written statement sent to the Yerevan prosecutor’s office and several Armenian newspapers, the lawyers outlined what they believe to be several deliberate missteps by Yerevan police as part of a high-level cover-up. The lawyers cite prevailing prejudices against gays in Armenia and allege certain suspects were given the benefit of the doubt because of their influential acquaintances.

Shortly after releasing the document, the lawyers were forced to flee Armenia because of repeated threats made on their family.

Barb McKenzie, Haglund’s sister, said she didn’t believe the official explanation for her brother’s murder.

“Part of the reason is they can use Josh’s sexuality to conclude why he was killed and cover up the real reasons,” McKenzie said. “In my heart and mind I think the theory that our attorney came up with (is right).”

Pailak Mzikian, an Armenian native living in Germany, said he believes that Armenia isn’t alone in dealing with issues of intolerance.

“Gangsters, thugs and hooligans are everywhere in every country,” Mzikian wrote in an e-mail. “To generalize from the deeds of those few onto a nation or a country is wrong.

“I have seen some open homosexual bars and night clubs in Yerevan, so there must be an active gay scene there,” he said. “On the other hand, Armenians are very tied to their Christian roots and their church. I think you can compare it very well with some areas in the U.S.”

Fate of the bill

As for the fate of the proposed bill, congressional spokesman Josh Straka said he felt optimistic about its chances.

“Family and friends of Joshua across the nation have worked hard to get other members (of Congress) to sign on as co-sponsors,” he said. “I think there’s a very real shot for this bill to move forward this year.”

McCollum introduced a similar bill last year on the anniversary of Haglund’s death, but a companion Senate bill was never introduced and the House bill failed to make it through committee.

Remembering Joshua

Haglund’s family established a memorial fund in his name shortly after the murder. The scholarship is given annually to a University student planning to study abroad in one of the countries that Haglund visited.

University Learning Abroad Center director of finance Trish Blomquist said that the fund would need $25,000 to become permanently endowed, which means it would establish the scholarship for as long as the center exists.

Currently, the family has raised $13,000 through a golf tournament fundraiser and personal donations.

McKenzie said although nothing will ever bring her brother back, the scholarship is the best way to memorialize him.

“His passion was to educate people around the world and better their lives,” she said. “Now, there’s one less person in this world doing that, and if we can encourage others to do it because of Joshua’s interests, then we are continuing his legacy.”

More information about the Joshua Haglund Memorial Peace Scholarship and his life can be found at http://joshuahaglund.com.