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Dad court martialed, family nearly homeless

For Keran Praefke, life seemed to fall apart last week.

She received a letter from the property management company, American Eagle, stating that she and her four children had to be out of their home in Seaplane base military housing in a week.

“This is not right. This should not be happening,” Praefke said, breaking into tears Monday morning.

It was the culmination of a series of terrible events over the last year. Her husband, Navy aviation electricians mate James Praefke, was investigated for allegedly sexually assaulting a child. He was arrested on charges of stealing and illegally possessing explosives.

Keran had to travel back and forth to her husband’s court martial hearings in Bremerton until he finally pleaded guilty to explosives-related charges.

She thought the trouble was finally over until she got the letter from American Eagle. She thought she and her kids were literally going to be on the streets.

Fortunately, Navy officials and American Eagle managers stepped in to help her. Praefke signed a lease this week that will allow her to stay until the end of November.

Rules had to be bent to allow the family to stay.

“We’re making an exception for her because she’s a victim in a bad situation,” said Rima Edmonds, a regional property manager for an American Eagle subcontractor. “We never were going to throw the family out on the streets.”

Kim Martin, public affairs officer at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, said Navy advocates are working with the family to help them find housing and make sure Keran Praefke is not overwhelmed.

“Basically, we’ve been doing everything we can to help support her,” Martin said.

While she appreciates the help, Keran is still worried about the future. She doesn’t want to take her kids out of Oak Harbor schools, but she doesn’t think she can find affordable housing for a family of five in the area. She works a minimum wage job and realizes she needs to learn some skills. She has poor credit.

Most of all, she’s scared of her husband.

“He’s a terrorist,” she said. “He never had to explain what he was going to do with the explosives. ... It’s not just my family that’s in danger. When he gets out, I don’t know what he’ll do.”

But for a long time, Keran said few people knew the struggles she was going through since Navy officials asked her not to talk about it.

Last August, James Praefke, her husband of nine years, was sent to Afghanistan with VAQ-133. While he was gone, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service began an investigation into whether James had sexually assaulted a young girl.

Keran said investigators searched her husband’s storage facility and discovered C-4 plastic explosives, a large amount of ammunition and gas masks marked with her children’s names.

Praefke returned to the Navy base last February. While he was going through customs at a hangar on base, a bomb-sniffing dog alerted on his bag. The hangar was immediately evacuated. Investigators searched his bag and found a live grenade inside.

Martin said the court martial proceedings went from Sept. 27 to Oct. 5. James Praefke ended up pleading guilty to unlawfully taking an explosive device onto a government aircraft, unlawful storage of explosives and larceny of government property, Martin said.

He was acquitted of charges of indecent acts with a child and two counts of assault of a child.

Keran said her husband was sentenced to three years of incarceration, which she didn’t feel was nearly enough. She said James has anti-government feelings and she worries that he had something malevolent planned for the explosives.

Keran said the extra month in base housing is a giant relief and gives her time to get ready for a move. She been in contact with Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and the Housing Authority of Island County, but hasn’t found anywhere to live. There’s a long waiting list for affordable housing, she said.

Keran said she hates to leave Oak Harbor, but will probably have to move her family to her mother’s home in Oregon.

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