Crime & Courts

Victim dies, 2 more suspects arrested in Russian Jack shooting

The woman shot and severely wounded at a Russian Jack home a week ago has died, and a total of four suspects are in custody, now facing murder charges in connection with her death.

Anchorage Police Department spokesperson Anita Shell said in a statement 40-year-old Paula Zorawski, who was shot just before 11 p.m. Sept. 22 on the 5600 block of Alora Loop, was pronounced dead at an Anchorage hospital Wednesday.

Eighteen-year-olds Michael Patrick Fitzgerald and Tommy Hunter Higgs were arrested last week and charged with first-degree assault in the case. A third, 18-year-old Savon Berry, was charged Wednesday.

"(Berry) was taken into custody at his home located at the 600 block of West 34th Avenue," Shell wrote. "He was charged with assault, robbery, and misconduct involving a controlled substance and remanded to the Anchorage jail."

A fourth suspect, 19-year-old Alonzo Tofpi Steward, had been sought Thursday morning but later turned himself in. According to Shell, he was held on arrest warrants for charges of second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and fourth-degree misconduct involving controlled substances.

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Zorawski's death marks the 27th homicide in Anchorage so far this year.

With Zorawski's death, Shell said the assault charges against the three men who were already in custody Wednesday will be upgraded to second-degree murder.

At Zorawski's home in East Anchorage on Thursday, family and friends described her as a rambunctious and loving mother of three children.

"You know those party poppers? She was the confetti that shoots out when you pull the string," said Malia Naufahu, who called herself Zorawski's best friend.

Zorawski is originally from New York but has been in Alaska for the past 13 years. She moved here to be with her then-husband. She called Alaska home, Naufahu said.

Zorawski was a stay-at-home mom who cared deeply about her two sons and daughter, ages 22, 17 and 14, respectively. The kids have the support of many friends and family, Naufahu said.

According to the friend, Zorawski did not know any of the suspects who showed up at her doorstep on the evening of the fatal shooting. She wasn't all the way out the front door before she was shot, she said.

According to charging documents, Fitzgerald told police that he and Higgs had meant to rob the victim's son after buying marijuana from him. Fitzgerald said he, Higgs and three other people — one of whom was armed — lined up outside the home, but when Zorawski answered the door, Fitzgerald said, the shooter shot her in the head and the group left.

Shell said Thursday investigators hadn't released any details on the fifth person mentioned in the account. She declined to say who police believe shot Zorawski but said everyone in the group was being charged under a theory of collective responsibility.

"When a shooting occurs in the commission of a crime and someone dies, they all get charged with murder," Shell said.

A probable-cause statement supporting the assault charges against Fitzgerald, written by police Detective David Cordie, said police were first called to Alora Loop by Zorawski's son, who said he had sold Fitzgerald marijuana earlier that night.

According to Cordie, surveillance video from cameras at the home confirmed the account of a five-person group approaching the residence.

"When Paula Zorawski answers Fitzgerald's ring of the door and opens it, one of the four individuals shoots her through the glass window of the screen door in her face," Cordie wrote. "Then Fitzgerald and the four individuals flee the residence."

When police visited Fitzgerald, he admitted being at the scene with Higgs, Cordie wrote.

"He agreed to accompany them back to the police station, stating 'I know what you are here to talk to me about,' " Cordie wrote.

Fitzgerald told police he knew Zorawski's son had "large amounts of cash and drugs on hand" at the home based on posts to his Instagram account, Cordie wrote.

"(Higgs) told him that he was interested in ripping (robbing) this residence," Cordie wrote. Fitzgerald told detectives he arranged to buy a 1-gram "dab" of concentrated marijuana from the victim's son for $60, a transaction intended to get Higgs and the others into the home, the charges say.

Officers later caught up with Higgs in Chugiak.

In a second interview, Cordie wrote, Fitzgerald identified himself and Higgs in a still photo taken from video of the shooting — but remained silent on one key point.

"Fitzgerald was unwilling or unable to identify the individual in the still shooting Zorawski," Cordie wrote.

Police said the investigation is ongoing and arrest warrants have not been issued for anyone else in the case.

Alaska Dispatch News reporter Jerzy Shedlock contributed to this report. 

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