The deeply troubling news coming out of the Anchorage Police Department today was that the rumor that a possible serial killer was on the loose in Alaska’s largest city was true.
For weeks, it has been whispered that police had linked the bullets from five separate killings to a single weapon, but officially the police department said nothing until today when it was revealed that 40-year-old James Dale Ritchie, who died in a Saturday shoot out with police downtown, was found to be carrying the handgun linked to those five deaths.
“As detectives have investigated this event, they have discovered that the suspect’s gun that was recovered in Saturday’s shooting is the same gun that was used in five other homicides this year,” a press release from the Department said.
Police have known since July that three shootings matched the gun, and since August they have known that there were five shootings linked to it. Police appear to have been blessed with luck in both catching Ritchie and avoiding further deaths.
According to police reports, officer Arn Salao tried to stop Ritchie on the street downtown on Saturday to ask him about an unpaid cab fare. When the man wouldn’t stop, Salao pursued only to have Ritchie open fire.
The officer was hit by multiple bullets, but returned fire as other officers also arrived on the scene and engaged Ritchie. The police account describes a harrowing scene downtown:
“The male turned firing a gun at Officer Salao multiple times. Officer Salao flew out of his vehicle and started to return fire. Sgt. (Marc) Patzke had arrived on scene as the shooting was occurring. He ran towards the suspect and returned fire, ultimately causing the suspect to fall to the ground over top of Officer Salao. The suspect continued fighting Officer Salao until he was subdued by other officers. Officers attempted to render aid to the suspect but he was declared deceased at the scene.”
Salao was rushed to the hospital where he underwent two surgeries. He is now recovering, according to police.
They have asked for help from the public in learning more about Ritchie, the dead gun man.
Alaska court records place him in Anchorage since at least 1995 when he was cited for illegally using fireworks. By 1998, he was in far more serious trouble when he ended up facing felony charges related to theft. By 2005, his crimes had escalated to felony burglary.
It is unclear whether he spent any time in the Alaska prison system.
A one-time resident of the Mountain View neighborhood, he appears to have come north from Virginia via Las Vegas.
Police have identified the victims of his killing spree as Jason Netter and Brianna Foisy, Treyveonkindell Thompson, and Bryant De Husson and Kevin Turner.
The Ritchie murders appearsto have started with Netter and Foisy at the start of July. They were shot on a bike path along North Post Road in north Anchorage.
Police said they found little evidence at the scene of the shooting, but did link the bullets used to a Colt Python .357-caliber revolver.
Only weeks later, on July 29, Thompson was murdered on Bolin Street in Muldoon, a couple of miles east of the earlier killings. He was found dead in the middle of the street and police learned for the first time they might be dealing with a serial killer.
“The State Crime Lab verified that the bullets were from the same weapon used in the Post Road homicide,” a Tuesday statement from APD said. “Police conducted further investigation but found no links between the homicide victims of this case and the Post Road case.”
Police at that time released a sketch of the shooter compiled with the help of three witnesses who’d seen a suspect near the scene. That sketch, which has some resemblance to Ritchie, and photos pg Thompson’s stolen bike were publicly released and led to more than 175 tips to law enforcement, according to the statement.
But none of the tips led to the apprehension of Ritchie.
It was then almost a month before he struck again. This time it was on the opposite side of Anchorage from Muldoon. He gunned down Bryant De Husson and Kevin Turner at Valley of the Moon Park near Westchester Lagoon on the city’s west side on Aug. 28.
They, like Netter and Foisy, were found near bike paths. The shootings sparked fears that Anchorage bike paths and parks had become unsafe, and police warned people to be alert and careful.
“Bullets recovered from the victims were sent to the State Crime Lab,” the police statement said. “The Crime Lab confirmed with police that the bullets were fired from the same weapon used in the Bolin Street and Post Road homicides. At this point police still did not know who the shooter was or if there was more than one. Very little evidence was left behind at this scene.”
This is a developing story.
CORRECTION: This story was corrected on Nov. 15, 2016. The original version put Valley of the Moon Park in the wrong neighborhood.