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Questions surround motives of young man accused of killing 2 troopers

ERIC ENGMAN

Nathanial "Sach" Kangas was polite, soft-spoken and academically motivated, his mother Judy Kangas said Monday.

"I raised him the best I could," she said.

She lives in Tanana, a Yukon River village of 240. Many of her family members live there too. Last week her son, who is 20, was arraigned in Fairbanks on two counts of first degree murder for the shooting deaths of two Alaska State Troopers. Nathanial, who everybody called "Sach," is in Fairbanks now, at the Fairbanks Correctional Facility, awaiting a full indictment. He also faces one count of third-degree assault for threatening a village public safety officer. If convicted, he will spend his life in prison.

A public memorial service for the troopers, Sgt. Patrick "Scott" Johnson and Gabriel "Gabe" Rich, is scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks. Both were stationed in Fairbanks.

Kangas shot the officers with an assault rifle during an altercation involving his father, Arvin Kangas on May 1, according to court documents. The troopers were in the village to arrest the elder Kangas.

As the troopers struggled with his father, Nathanial Kangas allegedly fired seven shots at close range, hitting the troopers from behind. According to the charging documents, the village public safety officer was able to detain Nathanial Kangas following the shooting with the help of others in the community before additional troopers arrived. In custody, Kangas said he was "sorry" for killing the troopers, and that he shot them because they had been wrestling with his father.

Judy Kangas said she always encouraged her son to follow his dreams. She said Sach Kangas, a nickname given to him by his grandfather in reference to baseball player Satchel Paige, was a National Honor Society student who had later pursued an education at a vocational flight school at the Galena Interior Learning Academy.

Despite being behind on his flight school assignments, his mother said, he managed to get some of the best grades in his class. He only had three days to study for his final flight school class, which she said he passed with the highest grade. The rest of the students had three weeks to prepare, she said.

He played basketball for Galena while attending the academy there, winning an award at the state basketball tournament. When he and his family lived in Anchorage for several years, he often spent time at Hilltop Ski Area slopes, snowboarding with friends.

Former neighbor Marti Engebretsen said she lived next door to the Kangases in South Anchorage for much of his middle and high school years. She said Sach Kangas would often translate for his younger brother, Albert, who suffered from a speech impediment. He was "the nicest kid you would ever meet" she said.

"Never in a million years would I think he would get into a situation like this," Engebretsen said. "It breaks my heart."

Donna Folger, mayor of Tanana and cousin of Nathanial Kangas, said he was well-mannered and helpful in the village since he arrived two years ago. She said he was passionate about becoming a pilot. Many people in the Kangas family fly.

He was also close to his father, Folger said, who she described as a "radical" within the community. His father's influence wasn't a good one.

In 1997 Arvin Kangas pleaded no contest to a charge of fourth degree assault. In 2002 he was found guilty of disorderly conduct. He was convicted by jury for a DUI in 2010.

"Maybe his dad was a time bomb ready to tick off," Folger said. "I could have seen that happening with (Arvin Kangas). But not with Sach."

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna@alaskadispatch.com

 



SUZANNA CALDWELL