A father and son from a remote village west of Fairbanks have been arrested in a shooting incident that left two Alaska state troopers dead and the tight-knit law enforcement community in the Last Frontier reeling.
The bodies of Sgt. Patrick "Scott" Johnson, 45, and Trooper Gabriel Rich, 26, were taken Friday from Tanana, Alaska, to the state Medical Examiner’s office in Anchorage, where troopers and other officers planned a 24-vigil in their honor.
Col. James Cockrell, director of the Alaska state troopers, said in a written statement Friday that members of the state Department of Public Safety “are dealing with shock and disbelief trying to make sense” of the troopers’ deaths.
Johnson and Rich arrived Thursday afternoon in Tanana with plans to arrest Arvin Kangas, 58, on charges of assault and driving with a revoked license. Kangas had allegedly been involved in a confrontation with a village public safety officer, during which authorities say he drove by the officer’s home and pointed a shotgun at him.
When the two troopers tried to arrest Kangas at his home, there was a scuffle and the three ended up inside the house, Cockrell said.
“While inside the residence both Troopers were shot and killed by Nathanial Kangas (19),” Cockrell said in the statement. “It’s believed that Nathanial used a semi-automatic rifle during the shooting.”
The younger Kangas was arrested shortly after the shootings. He faces two charges of first-degree murder in the deaths of Johnson and Rich and a single charge of third-degree assault for “actions against VPSO Mark Haglin.” The elder Kangas surrendered to troopers later that night and was arrested on the original charges against him.
“This was a senseless act that resulted in killing of two dedicated and courageous Alaska State Troopers faithfully fulfilling their duties in the community of Tanana,” Cockrell said in the statement. “We are currently providing support for the involved families and all our personnel in Fairbanks. This is certainly a difficult time for DPS members."
Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Megan A. Peters said Friday that the incident “is under investigation. There’s nothing more that we can say at this time.” She did, however, confirm that the two men were father and son.
Condolences poured in Friday.
Gov. Sean Parnell said he was “deeply saddened to learn of the senseless, brutal crime that took the lives of two of Alaska’s finest,” men who “answered the call to serve and protect, and made the ultimate sacrifice while keeping our communities safe.”
Johnson and Rich had been featured on a National Geographic Channel reality show called “Alaska State Troopers.” In a blog post on its website, the channel reached out to the two men’s families and the “entire Alaska State Trooper force.”
“National Geographic Channel is incredibly saddened to learn of the loss of two Alaska State Troopers yesterday in the village of Tanana, Alaska,” the post said. “We have a long and proud association with the troopers, and consider them a member of our extended channel family.”
According to the Department of Public Safety, on Jan. 1, Johnson and Rich joined a specialized unit that serves remote villages both on and off of the state’s road system. Johnson joined the troopers in 1993, Rich, in 2011.