A commander for the Alaska State Troopers said Tuesday he is certain the suspect in a standoff with troopers and police in Kotzebue on Sunday shot himself, but the investigation now under way will have to answer other key questions, including whether the man was wounded by authorities during the initial exchange of gunfire. Two troopers were injured, one seriously.
Arvid Nelson Jr., 50, died during the incident, which occurred on a road leading out of town as residents watched and took photos. His family said he went by Junie, a nickname for Junior. He was a skilled, respected hunter who had children with his long-time partner, according to friends and family. The relationship recently had disintegrated and friends said his girlfriend had moved out, distressing Nelson.
"Something went really wrong because this is not what we'd expect from Junie," said Jim Magdanz, a resident who watched much of the situation unfold on Sunday.
Capt. Barry Wilson commands trooper Detachment C, which covers a huge swath of Alaska, including villages around Kotzebue. After hearing that two troopers were down, Wilson initiated a response from Anchorage, sending the equivalent of a SWAT team to Kotzebue.
"They have heavier ballistic vests, ballistic gear, shields and different types of less-than-lethal apparatus they can use. They have more options available to them than a trooper in the field," Wilson said.
The incident began around 9 a.m. on Sunday after Nelson's pickup truck crashed into a guardrail on Ted Stevens Way and someone reported a man inside brandishing a weapon. When a Kotzebue police officer arrived at the scene, the suspect fired at him, Wilson said. Troopers were called to help at 9:15 a.m.
Two troopers -- both with long histories in public safety -- tried to address the situation from behind the open doors of their trooper SUV.
Both were shot at by Nelson within moments of arriving, Wilson said. One was hit in the upper leg and fell to the ground. The other was grazed in the head, perhaps by shrapnel. The more seriously injured trooper is recovering and in good spirits, Wilson said.
Both troopers and a Kotzebue police officer returned fire, Wilson said, though he wasn't able to say how many rounds. He said the investigation must be completed to provide those details. An autopsy is being conducted and information on whether Nelson was hit during the gunfire exchange will not be released until it is complete, Wilson said.
"I can guarantee you this: What killed him was not the trooper fire," Wilson said. He said he couldn't provide much information while the investigation was ongoing but "(the) manner of injury to the individual is consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound."
No gunshots were fired by authorities after those initial rounds and troopers could see someone moving inside the truck into the afternoon, Wilson said. Trooper negotiators called Nelson's cellphone but he didn't answer.
On Wednesday, troopers will release the names of the two officers who were hit and fired back.
Troopers are asking those with video or photos of the incident to contact investigators at 269-5611.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.