Crime & Courts

Motive remains unclear in Fairbanks store shooting that left a man dead, police say

Update 11:45 a.m. Tuesday:

Fairbanks police said 41-year-old Harley Ray Titus was the man fatally shot on Sunday.

Original story:

It remains unclear what motivated a shooting at a Fairbanks grocery store Sunday evening that left one man dead and wounded another, police said Monday.

Joshua Eric Butcher, 41, was charged Monday with first-degree murder. Police said he turned himself in Sunday evening after the shooting.

Officers were first called to the Safeway on Airport Way just after 6:40 p.m. on multiple reports of a shooting, police wrote in an online statement.

In security footage, police said, a man later identified as Butcher was seen walking toward the store’s south entrance and shooting another man in the abdomen. Butcher fired multiple shots at the man from a close range, according to a criminal complaint signed by Investigator Caleb Reuter.

Butcher “did not break stride and continued into the store,” the complaint said.

He “fired multiple shots toward the north side of the store, causing multiple people to take cover and flee. Multiple gun defects were found on walls, checkout registers and banners throughout the store,” the charges said.

Butcher was seen in the security footage turning around and walking back out the door he had entered from, police said in the statement.

A second man was shot in the foot behind the customer service desk, police wrote.

By the time police arrived at 6:47 p.m., the 41-year-old man who was shot outside was unresponsive on the sidewalk, the statement said. Both victims were brought to the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and the first man died, police said. The 24-year-old who was shot in the foot was released from the hospital by Monday, police said.

Investigators found a 9mm semiautomatic handgun on the floor inside the store’s south entrance, police said, and there were multiple magazines and spent and unspent rounds in the store, police said.

Just over 10 minutes after the shooting, Butcher called 911 to say he was outside the police department, “that he had been at Safeway, and that officers could come out and arrest him,” the statement said.

Butcher was taken into custody without incident, a spokeswoman for the department said Sunday. He matched a description of the shooter provided by one of the victims, police said.

Butcher also had an empty holster and empty magazine holders, police wrote.

Butcher immediately requested a lawyer, the statement said. By Monday, he had been charged and was detained at the Fairbanks Correctional Center.

“This is an active investigation and FPD will be working with the District Attorney’s office to determine if more charges should be filed,” police wrote.

No motive had been identified by Monday and police did not say if the shooting was believed to be random or targeted.

At an arraignment Monday afternoon, Fairbanks District Attorney Joseph Dallaire said the shooting has shocked the community and its impacts will continue to be felt going forward.

“The charges in this case explain what took place essentially an active shooter situation,” he said. “These active shooter situations unfortunately have become more common in recent years around the country. And I don’t know that anybody ever anticipates that will happen in their town, but now this has happened here in our city. And frankly, when people engage in this type of act, it’s really akin to an act of domestic terrorism.”

Harrison Riggs said Monday that he was still in shock after witnessing the shooting.

Riggs said he’d stopped at the store after work to pick up a few groceries when he heard several loud noises. He initially thought something had been dropped, he said. Then he saw people running.

Riggs began running toward the door where he entered, but stopped when he heard more gunfire in that direction.

“I decided to look for another exit since that was too close for comfort,” he said.

He escaped out an emergency exit at the side of the store alongside a panicked father and daughter, he said.

“I feel like this was one of those out of the blue things that I hear about happening on the news,” he said. “I never thought I would be in a situation like it.”

Butcher is being held on $10 million bail. Dallaire said he anticipates at least one other charge will be filed against Butcher.

Police asked anyone with information about the case to contact Lt. Amy Davis at 907-450-6565 or adavis@fairbanks.us.

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