Man in motorized cart shoots Walmart employee in dispute over dog, police say

Casey Grove
Anchorage police officers take a man into custody after a shooting at the midtown Walmart on Saturday, March 16, 2013. Officials said there was a dispute over the double amputees service dog being off-leash.
Bob Hallinen
Anchorage police officers respond to a shooting at the Walmart in midtown Anchorage, Saturday afternoon, March 16, 2013.
Bob Hallinen

A man driving a motorized shopping cart shot an Anchorage Walmart assistant manager during a dispute over the man's unrestrained dog on a busy Saturday afternoon inside the Midtown store, police said.

Police arrested the suspect minutes later. Medics rushed the victim, a man shot once in his midsection, to a hospital in stable condition, police said. The store was not shut down, a police sergeant said, and business continued as usual minutes later, with many shoppers unaware a shooting had taken place.

Police later identified the shooter as Daniel Pirtle, 45. The victim, Jason Mahi, 33, was in surgery Saturday afternoon, a police spokeswoman said.

Pirtle, a double amputee with metal, prosthetic legs, came into Walmart with his service dog not on a leash, police Sgt. Cameron Hokenson said.

Mahi is an assistant manager at the store, according to Walmart. He asked the man to leave, police said.

"There was some kind of dispute," Hokenson said. "They were escorting him out of the store and something happened on the way out where the suspect pulled out a weapon and shot the employee."

Army Sgt. Carlos Morales said he, his wife and his kids were in a nearby aisle. His wife played with a hula hoop, then they started walking to where the store displays TVs, Morales said.

"We literally just walked around the corner and heard a gunshot. It just sounded like somebody dropped a big box," Morales said. "You try not to think a shot just went off."

A Walmart employee told Morales someone had been shot, but there was no announcement or direction from Walmart managers about what to do. Morales, who's been on five overseas deployments in his 12-year career, saw a nurse rushing to help Mahi, and decided his military training might help. Morales elevated the wounded man's feet, and the nurse put pressure on the wound, he said.

"He said, 'I can't feel my feet.' He just kept talking about his kids," Morales said. " 'My kids, my son,' that's basically all he was saying. Everyone else was just trying to keep him awake."

They were near the sporting goods section.

An off-duty police sergeant also ran to Mahi, police said.

"He happened to be shopping in there at the time and heard a gunshot, heard some of the employees and also some of the shoppers say somebody had been shot," Hokenson said. "He went and assessed the victim and determined the suspect had left in a motorized wheelchair, a motorized scooter-type thing."

Pirtle piloted the cart through the store toward the front doors, police spokeswoman Anita Shell said. There were no reports the man brandished the gun at anyone, Shell said.

The off-duty sergeant and police officers arriving in about a dozen police cruisers caught Pirtle near the front entrance to the store, Hokenson said. Officers put him in handcuffs and took a handgun from him, said Wayne Toovak, a witness.

"It was a big, long gun," Toovak said.

The officers removed Pirtle's prosthetic legs and put him in the back of a patrol car. They held his light-brown dog, barely more than a pup, in the back of another police cruiser. Pirtle was charged with first-degree assault and fourth-degree weapons misconduct and held at the Anchorage Jail on $50,000 cash-only bail, police said. An officer at the store said she was driving the dog home.

Inside Walmart a short while later, there was almost no sign that a shooting had occurred. A pile of crumpled, yellow police tape sat behind the gun counter in the sporting goods section.

"Sporting goods isn't going to be open for a little while," an employee said.

A store manager declined to comment.

Arkansas-based Walmart spokesman Dan Fogleman said he could not answer many questions about the store's response immediately following the shooting, because he did not have all the details.

"This was a senseless, unprovoked act of violence, and we're deeply disturbed by the actions taken by the suspect toward our associate," Fogleman said. "We remain concerned for our associate and pray for a quick recovery from his injuries."

Morales said it upset him that the store's employees did not do more to warn other shoppers, many of them with children and oblivious to what had happened. Nobody knew if the suspect was still in the store or if he was dangerous, Morales said.

"Some people were frantic. Some people were just shopping, because they didn't know," he said. "We didn't know if it was a live shooter, going crazy shooting up the store. ... You can't just continue checking people out, like everything is normal."

"I've seen a lot of crazy stuff in Anchorage, but this is probably the craziest thing I've ever seen," Morales said. "I'm not understanding it. Who just goes to Walmart and shoots somebody?"

Reach Casey Grove at or 257-4589.