Alaska Troopers Killed in Tanana Identified; One Person in Custody

By SUZANNA CALDWELL and TEGAN HANLON, Alaska Dispatch / Anchorage Daily NewsMay 1, 2014

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Two Alaska State Troopers were killed in the Yukon River village of Tanana Thursday while conducting an investigation, said a troopers spokeswoman.

The troopers were identified as Sgt. Patrick “Scott” Johnson and Trooper Gabriel “Gabe” Rich, both members of the Fairbanks Rural Service Unit. 

Johnson and Rich had gone to Tanana Thursday to follow up on a report that a suspect had brandished a firearm in the village the night before, said Megan Peters, troopers spokeswoman.

Peters said one person was detained. Troopers did not release any other details Thursday about what led to the troopers’ deaths.

“We probably won’t have anything of more substance until (Friday),” Peters said. “We’ve got a lot of moving parts and pieces. We’re doing the best we can.”

The Alaska Bureau of Investigation, an arm of the state Department of Public Safety, is responding to Tanana to investigate.

At the village store Thursday evening, manager Ruby Cruger said she was watching troopers and other officials crowd around a house on Front Street, one of three streets in the village. A shooting happened at the house, she said. Her aunt lives there.

“All we know is two troopers were shot; they are both dead,” she said.

Resident Mary Edwin was picking up her 6-year-old grandson at the village’s Maudrey J. Sommer School earlier Thursday, around 3:15 p.m., she said.

“I got to the school and they said, ‘Come in, we’re locking down,’” Edwin said.

Some students had already left before the doors were locked. The rest were let out with adult escorts within about 45 minutes, Edwin said. Staff called the homes of all of the school’s 40 or so students, from kindergarten to 12th grade. They were all accounted for, she said.

Alexander Tarnai, 17, said that about 15 minutes after he left school at 3:15 p.m., he received a text message from a friend. It said two troopers had been shot. He went to the street where people had gathered.

“They had a whole bunch of tape, like crime scene tape, like 100 yards from where it happened,” he said. He said he’s not used to seeing troopers in the village.

There is no trooper post in Tanana. One village public safety officer is stationed there, according to Jody Potts, VPSO director for the Tanana Chiefs Conference.

Charlie Wright, a 20-year resident of Tanana, lives a few houses down from where the shooting occurred, three streets from the banks of the still-frozen Yukon River. Normally people are cleaning up their yards and getting ready to head out to fish camp along the river, he said.

“It’s a really peaceful, really quiet place,” he said. “I couldn’t believe what could have caused an uproar like this.”

The tiny Interior Alaska village of Tanana, home to 238 people, is located at the junction of the Yukon and Tanana rivers 130 air miles west of Fairbanks. It is accessible only by air and river transportation. 

The last trooper death was in March 2013, when Trooper Tage Toll died in a helicopter crash during a search and rescue. The last trooper to die of gunfire was Trooper Hans-Peter Roelle, who was killed in pursuit of a suspect in 2001. To date, 16 troopers have been killed in the line of duty.

Suzanna Caldwell writes for Alaska Dispatch and Tegan Hanlon writes for the Anchorage Daily News. Daily News editor Julia O’Malley contributed to this story. 

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