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Suspect in Anchorage police shooting charged with attempted murder

Loren Holmes photo

More details were revealed Friday about the man who shot at Anchorage police officers a day earlier, causing dozens of officers to descend, closing a major thoroughfare and forcing SWAT teams to evacuate a motel.

Heavily tattooed Jason Barnum, 37, was arraigned on one count of attempted murder in the first degree and two counts of assault in the third degree. His bail was set at $500,000 cash.

At the arraignment Friday afternoon Barnum appeared fidgety, swaying from side to side, at times hitting his face on the microphone. When asked basic information from the judge like if his name was spelled correctly, Barnum replied “sure” and “sounds good.”

His arm was in a sling, fractured because he was shot by police Thursday. Visible were his numerous face tattoos. The right side of his face is nearly covered with skulls and skeletons. His lips are rimmed with skeletal teeth and an eyeball in the middle of his forehead. His right eyeball was tattooed black.

The arraignment came after a press conference during which Police Chief Mark Mew and Lt. Anthony Henry offered more details on exactly what happened at the Merrill Field Inn, just off of Fifth Avenue, one of Anchorage's busiest roads and across the street from a commuter airport.

Police don't know why Barnum shot at officers. In charging documents, Barnum admitted to being a heroin addict. Henry said that based on his behavior, they have reason to suspect he was high during the shooting

Three officers arrived at the Merrill Field Inn Thursday morning after a stolen vehicle associated with a series of burglaries on the Anchorage Hillside was spotted in the parking lot.

Lt. Anthony Henry said these weren't just any burglaries, they were burglaries that occurred while residents could have been home.

“When you go into people's homes at night, that’s risky behavior and that's not normal for burglars,” Henry said.

So far police know of seven burglaries in the upper Hillside and Rabbit Creek areas that Barnum is associated with, but there could have been more, Henry said.

According to charging documents, police reviewed a video from the motel's surveillance system and saw a man associated with room 209 taking a tote from a Toyota truck into the room and then later to a Dumpster.

The officers went to room 209 to investigate. There they encountered Sam Williams, Jr. and Stephanie Callis, who both had outstanding warrants for their arrest.

According to charging documents, Williams tried to stall police while Callis and Barnum retreated to the bathroom. Williams told police Callis was sick, and Callis -- instructed by Barnum -- played the part, making retching noises in the bathroom.

Police, noticing stolen items, handcuffed Williams and demanded that Callis leave the bathroom.

As she walked out Barnum started firing at officers with a gun stolen at one of the Hillside burglaries. Officers returned fire, striking Barnum.

Police were able to evacuate the room and force Barnum to come out using verbal commands. Mew said getting a SWAT team in and out of a situation within a few hours is “fairly quick.”

One officer, whose name has not been released, had a bullet slip beneath the back of vest, hitting him. However, the officer was released hours after the incident, requiring only a few stitches. Mew said the officer was expected to be back at work Tuesday.

Callis and Williams are in police custody, booked on their outstanding warrants. More charges are likely coming, Henry said.

Sting of burglaries finances heroin habit

In statements to police, Barnum admitted to being a heroin addict who burglarized homes and stole vehicles to finance his habit. In charging documents Barnum said he was not able to give a long list of the burglaries he'd committed, but did confirm three recent strings of burglaries in different neighborhoods around Anchorage.

Henry noted that Barnum has an extensive criminal history. Court records show incidents back to 1993, including burglary charges in 1994, 2000 and 2005 as well as multiple felonies including forgery. He pleaded no contest to all of the burglary charges.

Barnum may have prison gang affiliations, Henry said, although it's unknown if he has any street gang connections.

His tattoos are numerous. A Facebook photo shows some of them, including the word “pain” stylized and a Celtic cross. In the photo, uploaded in July 2011, Barnum is wearing an iron cross necklace with a swastika in the middle. Henry said he did not know if Barnum has white supremacist ties, although he officers are working with the department of corrections to examine the tattoos.

Records show that Barnum has been in Alaska since at least 1991. A sport fishing license from 1992 listed his residence as McLaughlin Youth Center in Anchorage.

Henry said Barnum may face more charges as the investigation continues.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com