Anchorage police said Friday that they have arrested a suspect after several people reported being assaulted and threatened in the past week on hiking and multi-use trails, mostly on the city’s east side.
The Anchorage Police Department shared eight reports of people being threatened or assaulted while walking this past week on local trails, and some of the victims posted about the assaults on social media.
Of the eight incidents, several occurred near the Basher Drive Trailhead, and the others were reported on trails in the area of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue; Elmore and Campbell Airstrip roads; and 36th Avenue and Muldoon Road, along with the Campbell Creek Trail near East International Airport Road.
All involved a man who threatened or physically assaulted hikers and pedestrians, reportedly punching or throwing rocks at people he encountered, and police are reaching out to the public to see if there may be other potential victims.
Police said in an online statement Saturday that officers located and detained 38-year-old Sean Ahmed on Friday afternoon after the department received a call about an argument the caller had overheard near the Basher Drive Trailhead, in which a man was threatening another person with harm. The description of the man matched the physical description of the suspect in the trail assaults, police said.
A patrol officer responded to the trailhead, and once backup units were in place — including officers who’d been looking for the suspect on the trails at the time — officers detained Ahmed, who they found lying down in the trees near the trail, according to police.
Police believe Ahmed is the single suspect involved in the assaults, “but cannot yet confirm that is for certain until we finish the investigation(s),” according to police spokeswoman Renee Oistad.
One of the assault victims interviewed by the Daily News said they believed the man in a photo taken by Anchorage Assembly member Karen Bronga mid-attack was the same person who attacked her this week, too.
Bronga snapped the photo of a man who she said attacked her Monday afternoon while walking her dogs near Far North Bicentennial Park with her husband, she said in an interview.
“A guy popped out of the woods directly in front of us,” Bronga said Friday. The man yelled at Bronga and her husband, Tom. “He then picked up a stick and started chasing us and hitting us,” she said.
“And we’re calling police, and he picked up handfuls of rocks, threw them at us, spit on us, and eventually got a really big rock and threw it at my husband’s back, which ended up leaving a pretty sizeable bruise.”
Another of the reports was filed by Chingwen McGrevy, who met a co-worker Thursday at the Basher trailhead on the Anchorage Hillside just after 1:30 p.m. for a hike up Wolverine Peak.
A few miles into the nearly 9-mile round-trip hike, a man holding what appeared to be an ax stepped onto the trail in front of McGrevy, and started shouting and threatening the pair.
“He just pointed, and said, ‘I need you guys to get out of here as soon as possible. Otherwise, I’m going to kill you,’ ” McGrevy said in an interview. After a few seconds of shock, McGrevy said, she quickly apologized to the man.
McGrevy and her co-worker then ran down the trail away from the man, in the direction of Wolverine Peak. After checking to make sure the man hadn’t followed them, they decided to keep going on their hike, and just take a detour on the way back to avoid the spot where they’d been threatened, she said.
Around 7 p.m., the two arrived back at the trailhead, only to find that tires on both of their cars had been slashed.
They met another hiker, Jess Feenstra, who’d hiked a 5-mile loop in the direction of Wolverine that evening, and returned to her car to find that one of her tires had been slashed too. She was in the process of changing out her tire with a spare when the pair was finishing their hike.
After hearing what had happened to McGrevy and her friend, Feenstra said this wasn’t going to keep her from hiking alone.
“I have a dog, I carry bear spray, and I play music, I make noise when I’m hiking, for bears,” she said. “But now I’m a little concerned that there are also people with axes that I have to be more concerned about.”
In a text, McGrevy shared the same photo that had been taken by Bronga and posted to social media. She said she and her co-worker both believed that was the same person who attacked them.
On Thursday evening, just hours after McGrevy was attacked, Catherine Mannix was walking with her daughter on the North Gasline Trail near Basher when a man on a bike started shouting, Mannix said in a message.
She said that the man lunged at her and punched her in the head, knocking her off her feet and into the bushes and rocks. Her daughter shoved the man and began reaching for her bear spray, and he took off, said Mannix, who said she has minor bruising from the assault.
After additional investigation after officers detained Ahmed on Friday, police said they believed they had probable cause to arrest Ahmed on four counts of assault related to the two incidents that occurred Thursday, involving McGrevy and Mannix.
Investigations into the other assault allegations are ongoing and could result in more charges filed, police said.
Mannix barely slept the night after the attack. She said she plans to carry a Taser and bear spray on future walks, and hopes to see the city do more to make residents feel safe.
“I am very thankful to the Anchorage Police Department for apprehending him,” Mannix said. “I refuse to stay off the trails but I will be prepared to deal with wild humans and not just wild animals going forward.”
McGrevy said nothing like this has ever happened to her before. She said Friday that the incident has made her reconsider hiking at Basher, and sticking to more popular trailheads such as Glen Alps. She’s sad about that.
“I’ve been hiking for a couple years, and I love the Basher trailhead — it’s my go-to,” McGrevy said, noting the trails in that area were often less populated than other trails in town. “I enjoy the peace and quiet.”
Police are asking anyone who thinks they may have been assaulted by this same suspect to report the incident by calling 311 (option 1) or 907-786-8900 (option 0).