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Crime & Courts

Gunshots, then silence: Daylong standoff with troopers in Pilot Station ends with man dead

A standoff between Alaska State Troopers and an armed man in the Yukon River village of Pilot Station ended in his death Thursday evening.

People in the village of about 600 described a harrowing lockdown amid scant information Thursday as the standoff unfolded behind the post office and city building.

The situation actually started with an incident the day before, but the village's remote location prevented troopers from getting there right away.

Troopers in nearby St. Marys got reports from multiple witnesses of shots fired in Pilot Station at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Dwight Heckman, 27, assaulted a woman, strangled her and then dragged her out into the street, firing several shots from a handgun before he fled on a snowmachine, troopers say. The woman was reported safe with her family.

Heckman was convicted of domestic-violence assault of a woman in 2016 and violated probation on that charge in January 2017 when he assaulted the same woman and strangled her, according to charging documents in both cases. The 2017 case remains open with a $1,000 warrant issued for Heckman's arrest, a state courts database shows.

But troopers couldn't get to Pilot Station on Wednesday because of poor weather. Locals say fog has grounded planes for days.

The first trooper to arrive made the 15-mile trip from St. Marys to Pilot Station by snowmachine midday Thursday, according to troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters. Backup troopers were weathered in at Bethel and Aniak.

The trooper went to Heckman's home and Heckman pointed a handgun at him, Peters said. Then he fled into the woods. The trooper took evasive action to protect himself.

A representative of Pilot Station School said they went on lockdown in early afternoon but allowed parents to pick up children at 3 or 4 p.m. Only a few staff members knew why until more information surfaced later.

The trooper spotted Heckman again at 4:30 p.m., according to an online troopers dispatch that said Heckman "fired multiple rounds and then fled back into the woods."

The trooper and village police officers established a perimeter around him in the woods, Peters said.

Meanwhile, backup troopers took advantage of a weather window and a Department of Public Safety plane flew from Bethel with one trooper and then to Aniak to pick up the other, she said. The plane could get as far as St. Marys. The two troopers made the 30- to 45-minute snowmachine ride to Pilot Station. They arrived around 5 p.m.

Additional troopers from Mat-Su and Anchorage with the Southcentral special emergency reaction team, a SWAT-like team, arrived just after 6:30 p.m.

Around 7:30 p.m., someone from the city got on the VHF radio, resident Magan Bott said.

"They asked everyone to please go inside and lock your doors," Bott said.

Troopers said the team attempted to contact Heckman at 7:30 p.m. and there was an exchange of gunfire. He was found dead at 8:20 p.m.

Bott said she and other residents heard the gunshots, and then silence.

The village remained unusually quiet Friday morning, she said.

Peters said the manner of Heckman's death is under investigation and will ultimately be determined by the state medical examiner.

The trooper or troopers involved in the shooting will be placed on 72-hour administrative leave, under standard procedure, troopers say. The results of an investigation will be turned over to the Alaska Department of Law's Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals for review.

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