Crime & Courts

Anchorage sets record for homicides in a single year

The death of a man whose body was found in Butte is now being investigated as a homicide in Anchorage, Alaska State Troopers said Monday. That would bring the city to a record number of homicides in a calendar year.

The body of Anchorage man Weston Gladney, 36, was found in the Jim Creek recreation area of Butte, in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, on Dec. 2.

"Investigation by troopers has determined that the homicide occurred in Anchorage," Alaska State Troopers spokesman Tim DeSpain said. "At this time there is no additional information available for release in regards to this ongoing investigation."

Gladney's killing was the 35th homicide in Anchorage in 2017, police said – a new record. In 2016, there were a total of 34 homicides in the city, which also set a record.

Twenty-three of this year's homicides are closed cases, which means that either a suspect has been charged or a decision has been made not to file charges, such as in cases of self-defense, according to police spokeswoman Renee Oistad.

Generally speaking, this year's homicides have not been random, Anchorage Police Chief Justin Doll in an interview Monday afternoon. The victims and suspects often know each other. They are "frequently involved in criminal activity together," often illegal drug activity, Doll said.

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Some of the homicide victims in 2017 were killed by someone they knew intimately, such as Brandy Sullivan, whose estranged husband was charged with her death, and Brittanymae Haag, whose boyfriend was charged with hers.

In February, three people died as a result of an apartment fire in Spenard, which was later determined to be arson.

Another victim was a 2-year-old girl who police say died of extreme malnutrition in May, and whose mother has been charged with homicide.

On Sept. 12, three people were fatally shot at a Spenard gold shop by a man who police say got into a fight with the store owner.

In late August, a 91-year-old man shot and killed his wife. All charges against him were dismissed as a judge found he wasn't mentally capable of standing trial.

Some of the cases are thought to involve drugs, such as the death of Jerry Amos Jr., who was shot and killed by a man who witnesses said was acting strangely and appeared to be under the influence of drugs.

August was the deadliest month of 2017, with six homicides.

In 2016, people were overwhelmingly killed by guns, with gunfire involved in all but four of the year's homicides. Police said at the time that the majority of the deaths fell into the categories of domestic violence, robberies gone bad, and personal disputes escalated by a weapon.

2016 presented one extraordinary factor: a potential serial killer, James Dale Ritchie, a prime suspect in five shooting deaths.

In 2016, all but three were homicides considered closed by the end of the year.

Doll said police are now focusing on community-wide policing efforts, such as the creation of a new investigations unit.

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"Our general message to the community is that Anchorage residents should feel safe," he said.

The police department "is not focused on the specific number. Every single homicide is important to us," Doll said.

"Just focusing in on the number alone, in whatever crime category that you're talking about, I think it leaves off a lot of information," Doll said.

Correction: An earlier version of the chart in this story incorrectly stated that it included fatal officer-involved shootings and justifiable homicides. It did not include those deaths.

Laurel Andrews

Laurel Andrews was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in October 2018.