Troopers shoot and kill armed woman

911 CALL: Officers open fire after shotgun was aimed their way.

November 14, 2009 

Alaska State Troopers shot and killed a 58-year-old woman who had threatened a companion with a shotgun and later leveled the weapon at troopers early Saturday morning, the agency says.

Five officers fired on the woman, who troopers say also had a handgun, outside a Mat-Su home. One trooper received a minor injury -- a cracked tooth along his gumline from what they suspect was a bullet fired in the episode.

The standoff began after a man called 911 at 1:45 a.m. from a house near Mile 8 of Wasilla-Fishhook Road. The woman who would end up being shot, Nora Jean York, was out of control, he told police.

While troopers declined to identify the caller, neighbors described him as a disabled veteran who often relied on a wheelchair.

The man said York had been threatening him all day and he was afraid she might hurt him or hurt a neighbor, said troopers director Col. Audie Holloway.

During the call, dispatchers could hear York talking in the background as she walked in and out of the room.

"(She) threatened several times that, now that he had called the police, she was going to try to get the cops to kill her," Holloway said.

York had been drinking, the caller said.

She was upset with the man over his friendship with a neighbor and because she felt he didn't appreciate everything she did for him at home, Holloway said.

When troopers arrived at the cabin, at 5816 East Atka Drive, York was already outside with a shotgun in her hands. Troopers could see a semi-automatic handgun in her pocket, Holloway said.

York refused to put down the guns. Troopers tried three times to zap her with Tasers, but seconds later she pointed the shotgun toward two troopers, Holloway said.

Troopers fired on her at 2:15 a.m. as she stood on the porch. York was pronounced dead at the scene.

Troopers said they were unsure Saturday how many times she was hit.

Holloway said officers don't yet know whether the round that struck the trooper in the mouth was a ricochet or was fired by the woman. "One way or another it was a gunshot wound," he said.

Before the shooting, dispatchers heard the woman say she was glad troopers were there and hoped they were good shots, said troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen.

THE 911 CALL

York and the man have been together for about 15 years, Holloway said. Neighbors said they have lived at the home, a rental, since roughly last winter.

York legally changed her name in 1993, according to Alaska court records. Previously, she used the name Johnnie Uhl. An online directory for transgender resources lists her as the contact person for a now-defunct support group for transgender people in Anchorage.

York served as a kind of caregiver for the man, who neighbors said had disabled veteran plates on his vehicle.

"The male victim was, you know, he couldn't really take care of himself that well," Holloway said. "There was more than just housework to it. She just felt like she wasn't appreciated as much as she should have been."

The man called police Saturday morning to say he was worried about his neighbor's safety, and about himself, Holloway said.

"She got mad about that and came back in at one point and pointed the shotgun at him -- to the point where he thought she was going to kill him," Holloway said.

The man begged for his life, Ipsen said. He told dispatchers York was trying to commit "suicide by cop."

Several times York turned the shotgun toward herself, said the troopers director.

"She said something along the lines of getting the cops to kill her, and that 'You've put events into motion. And it's going to be your fault,' " Holloway said.

The 911 call came during a shift change for troopers. The swing shift was getting off work, the graveyard shift was arriving -- meaning more troopers were on duty than usual.

Seven troopers, including two recruits, soon arrived at the single-family log home. They wore body armor. Some carried AR-15 rifles.

The phone line to the home remained open, but authorities told the man inside to move to a safe place in the house.

York was already outside on the driveway wearing a white shirt, jeans and a back brace, Holloway said. Troopers don't know if she was there to meet the troopers or was on her way to the neighbor's, he said.

Authorities were trying to get an on-duty Wasilla Police Department hostage negotiator on the phone or to the scene -- a neighborhood thick with birch trees near the Little Susitna River.

The home looks like a pair of wide log cabins joined at the hip. Troopers took cover behind a vehicle and among the thin trees.

"They put themselves at pretty bad risk because the approach to the residence didn't provide them with a whole lot of cover," Holloway said.

York refused troopers' calls to lay down her guns, he said.

She tried to get back in the house only to find the man inside had already locked the door.

As York made her way to another entrance, troopers fired Tasers to take her down, Holloway said, but the barbs either missed or didn't stick well enough to stop her.

After the third Taser shot, York pointed the shotgun at troopers.

"At that point everybody pretty much had to open fire," Holloway said.

It's unclear how many shots were fired, he said. That will be part of the troopers investigation into the shooting.

Troopers will not identify any of the five troopers who fired the shots for three days. All have been placed on administrative leave for three days, standard practice after a shooting.

"It was just completely unavoidable," Holloway said. "There was no way that we could not respond to something like that."

In February, troopers shot and killed an armed woman outside a Wasilla medical clinic. The woman refused orders to drop her weapon. Investigations later concluded the shooting was justified.


Reporter Rindi White contributed to this story. E-mail Kyle Hopkins at khopkins@adn.com or call 257-4334.

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