ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The shooting deaths of two Alaska State Troopers devastated their colleagues, who face the same dangers and vulnerabilities as they patrol a tough terrain and remote villages dotted throughout the state.
"This will take us a long time to heal," trooper Col. James Cockrell said Friday. "The department is totally focused more on the families involved. This is a tragedy for them. It's totally unexpected."
The slayings of Trooper Gabriel "Gabe" Rich, 26, and Sgt. Patrick "Scott" Johnson, 45, on Thursday in the isolated community of Tanana underscored the challenges law enforcement faces in this huge state. Like many troopers assigned to patrol multiple villages, Rich and Johnson were not based in the interior community of 238 people. They worked out of the troopers' Fairbanks rural service unit 130 miles to the east, and they had to reach Tanana by plane.
A 19-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the killing of Rich and Johnson, both of whom had appeared on a cable TV reality show about the Alaska State Troopers. Formal charges against Nathanial Lee Kangas of Tanana were being prepared by troopers with the state Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals. The troopers said they believe he used a semi-automatic rifle in the shootings, which are still under investigation.
The teenager's father, Arvin Kangas, 58, of Tanana, also was arrested. He is charged with assault in connection with a confrontation Wednesday with an unarmed village public safety officer, Hark Haglin.
The elder Kangas was angry about selling a sofa he had not yet been paid for, Cockrell said. At one point, Arvin Kangas pointed a shotgun at Haglin as the public safety officer drove by the suspect's house, troopers said. Village public safety officers are unarmed, but a bill passed by lawmakers this year would allow for the arming of the officers, who serve as first responders in rural communities that can be located hours or days, depending on the weather, from the nearest state trooper.