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Tanana resident, 20, arraigned in killing of 2 Alaska State Troopers

Jerzy Shedlock
Trooper Gabriel "Gabe" Rich, left, and Sgt. Patrick "Scott" Johnson, right, were shot and killed in the line of duty May 1, 2014. Nathanial Kangas, 20, has been charged with the murders. Alaska Department of Public Safety / Alaska Dispatch illustration

Twenty-year-old Tanana resident Nathanial Kangas fired seven shots from close range into the backs of two Alaska State Troopers as they attempted to arrest his father Arvin Kangas, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports, citing court documents.

Fairbanks-based troopers Sgt. Patrick “Scott” Johnson and Gabriel “Gabe” Rich died as a result of the shooting. Nathanial Kangas has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and a third-degree assault charge. Arvin Kangas, who was arraigned Friday, has been charged with fourth-degree assault and driving without a valid license.

The younger Kangas was arraigned Saturday afternoon in Fairbanks. The local paper reported that in the courtroom “every seat was full and the walls were lined with law enforcement officers of several agencies.” If convicted, Nathanial, who Tanana locals call “Sach,” faces more than 200 years behind bars. KTUU reports the court declared Nathanial a flight risk and set bail at $4 million.

Tanana is located 2 miles west of the junction of the Tanana and Yukon Rivers. The latter river runs along First Avenue, where Kangas’ house and the scene of the shooting are located.

Tanana is a town of rich history. It was a trading settlement for the Koyukon and Tanana Athabascans long before European contact. Now, it has modern facilities -- a school, water treatment plant and health clinic. However, it has no paved roads. The majority of the homes are modest dwellings with dogs, ATVs and other odds and ends scattered among the yards.

Nathanial allegedly shot the troopers in the village Thursday afternoon. Tanana residents say the local village public safety officer, Mark Haglin, confronted Arvin on Wednesday about the harassment of a villager over the unpaid purchase of a sofa. Troopers say when Haglin approached 58-year-old, originally from Ruby, the man threatened the VPSO, who then decided to call for backup to help with Arvin’s arrest.

Fairbanks-based troopers Sgt. Patrick “Scott” Johnson and Gabriel “Gabe” Rich arrived in the village around 2:45 in the afternoon Thursday. Temporary village resident and STG, Inc. employee Natanel Kosydar said he saw the two troopers at Tanana’s gravel tarmac; they’d been laughing and joking.

The News-Miner reports that when Johnson and Rich attempted to arrest Arvin, he resisted and tried to flee. The charges say Arvin was contacted outside as Nathanial entered the family’s home and moved out of the troopers’ view. Following the arrests of the father and son, Arvin’s dusty, white Ford Escort sat abandoned at the intersection of First Avenue and Koyukuk Street.

Nathaniel allegedly emerged from the house carrying what the charges describe as an assault rifle; he fired seven shots, killing Johnson and Rich, the News-Miner reported.

VPSO Haglin was reportedly on scene during the entire encounter. After Nathanial fired on the troopers he pointed the gun at the local officer, only to lower it several moments later. Haglin allegedly fled and called for help.

Unclear even as of Friday was how Nathanial was arrested. The News-Miner, citing the charges, reported Haglin “was later able to detain (Nathanial) Kangas with the help of community members. Charging documents end by stating that once Haglin had him in custody, Kangas ‘spontaneously stated that he was sorry for doing it’ and that he shot troopers because the troopers were wrestling with Arvin.”

Arvin wasn’t arrested until 10:25 p.m. Friday. He walked from the scene of the shooting to a nearby house. Tanana locals stood and watched as troopers in full SWAT gear surround the small brown house with black trim. The troopers waited, peeking around the corners of nearby residences and rusty trucks, for several hours before Arvin emerged.

Friends and family of the Kangases said Arvin and his son were adament about Alaska Native rights. The men wanted to see Alaska’s first peoples take back their traditional land. One friend, Tanana council member Aaron Kozevnikoff, said Nathanial was brainwashed with the radicalism. But he said Arvin had been trying to get help for Nathanial, who was suffering from mental health issues.

Ultimately, the villagers believed the fatal shootings could have been avoided and said they’d never expect such senseless violence over something so small.

“It all happened because of a stupid couch,” Florence Folger said standing in front of the town’s general store on Friday.

A representative of This Generation Ministries was on the ground in Tanana on Saturday to help the villagers cope with the tragedy. In Anchorage, hundreds of miles from the secluded village, the bodies of Johnson and Rich were taken from the State Medical Examiner’s Office to the city’s airport. A procession of law enforcement vehicle followed the remains through Anchorage’s city streets.

The remains of Johnson and Rich are returning to Fairbanks. Both men had families and children.