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With Walmart shooting victim in critical condition, new details emerge about man charged in attack

Kyle Hopkins
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

As Midtown Walmart assistant manager Jason Mahi remained in critical but stable condition Monday in Anchorage, interviews and court records revealed new information about the man who shot him.

Double amputee Daniel Pirtle, 45, told police he shot Mahi after an argument over Pirtle's unleashed dog, according to the charges against him. Police arrested Pirtle minutes later as he tried to leave the store on a motorize scooter. He was carrying two pistols, the charges say.

Pirtle liked to travel with the 5-month-old dog Wookie -- and the guns -- wherever he went, said Susi Griffith, a roommate and longtime friend. He showed indications of instability, she said, but had seemed to be adjusting to a pair of surgeries to remove his legs because of diabetes over the past two to three years.

He talked of big, unlikely dreams, she said, such as breeding a dog team and running the Iditarod with his prosthetic legs. "Those things were so important in his daily discussions, that I can't believe he didn't stop himself from whatever happened," Griffith said from the smoky Airport Heights apartment where Pirtle sometimes lived.

"Something must have happened so fast, that he didn't manage to get up his controls."

 

'HE FELT NEEDED HERE'

Born in Oregon, Pirtle moved to Alaska five or six years ago, Griffith said. Court records reveal a man living on the margins.

Pirtle had been working as a cashier at Carrs/Safeway and listed the Airport Heights apartment as his address in 2009 when he filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the U.S. Postal Service. He sought a $30 million payout, writing that a maintenance employee struck him while he was riding a bicycle at Ingra Street and 8th Avenue. The collision injured his back, he claimed. A federal judge dismissed the case.

The next year, a Wasilla-based non-profit that provides affordable housing to people in need, including those with mental or physical disabilities, sued Pirtle for non-payment of rent, court records show.

Pirtle more recently lived in a motor home in the Mat-Su Valley, Griffith said. When he needed an Anchorage address to send mail and a place to stay in the city, Griffith offered her apartment, she said.

The pair met after Griffith temporarily served as a foster mother for one of Pirtle's sisters, she said. One of Pirtle's other sisters married Griffith's stepson, extending the family ties.

The older woman is legally blind and suffers disabilities of her own, she said. When Pirtle visitied, he helped around the house, she said, walking and feeding Griffith's dog.

"He felt needed here and spent a lot of time paying attention to me," she said.

Griffith described Pirtle as a "teddy bear" who was not prone to starting confrontations. It was in 2010 and 2011 that diabetes forced doctors to remove his legs, she said. "He lost one at Thanksgiving and one mid-summer. It wasn't very long apart."

Pirtle seemed to adjust, she said. He went ice fishing and hunting. At least twice, he bought low-income licenses at the Wal-Mart where charges say he admitted to shooting Mahi.

Over the past two weeks, Pirtle had become irritable, Griffith said. "He has mental instabilities. He had medication that I believe he had quit taking."

 

DOG AT ANIMAL CONTROL

Pirtle spent Friday night in the Mat-Su and came to Anchorage Saturday afternoon, Griffith said. Her personal care attendant, as a favor, drove him to Wal-Mart to cash a check.

The driver waited in the car as Pirtle went inside.

Back at the apartment, Griffith noticed that Pirtle had left Wookie's teal collar behind on the counter, she said.

At 3:01 p.m., Anchorage police received a report of the shooting.

"There was some kind of dispute," Police Sgt. Cameron Hokenson said later that day. "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."

The charges against Pirtle say only that Pirtle shot Mahi in the midsection following a discussion about Pirtle's unleashed dog.

That night, Pirtle told the story to his nephew, Joseph, over the phone. Pirtle said he told the manager the dog tends to wrap around his prosthetics legs, tripping him, when leashed, the nephew said.

"Danny said the manager started pushing him out of the store and kicking the dog," Joseph Pirtle said.

A Walmart spokeswoman said that's simply not true. The employee never made physical contact with the dog, she said.

Police spokeswoman Anita Shell said the detective investigating the case was not available Monday, and a police supervisor on duty had not seen the portion of surveillance video that showed the moments leading up to the shooting.

Mahi, 33, is being treated at Providence Alaska Medical Center .

Pirtle faces charges of first-degree assault and fourth-degree weapons misconduct. Held on a $50,000 cash-only bail, he is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday afternoon.

Police drove Wookie, a light-brown basset hound and coonhound mix, to Griffith's apartment after the shooting.

By Monday afternoon, the dog had been transferred to Anchorage Animal Care and Control Center, said spokeswoman Brooke Taylor. When a dog's owner is arrested or hospitalized, the city takes the animal into "protective custody," she said.

Last year, more than 170 animals were housed at the shelter under similar circumstances, she said. Pirtle can name someone who can pick the dog up, she said. If he doesn't do so within 10 days, the dog will be considered for adoption, Taylor said.

Twitter updates: twitter.com/adn_kylehopkins. Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334 or email him at khopkins@adn.com.

 

 

 


By KYLE HOPKINS
khopkins@adn.com
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