Harley Ray Titus had walked to the Safeway grocery from his son’s nearby home in West Fairbanks on Sunday evening to grab a few things, his cousin said.
But as Titus, 41, was walking out of the store around 6:40 p.m., a tall man dressed in a plaid shirt walked briskly toward him and began shooting from a 9mm handgun, charging documents said. Titus was shot multiple times and died that night.
The shooter, identified by Fairbanks police as Joshua Eric Butcher, did not break stride as he entered the store, the charges said. He opened fire, spraying the store with bullets and shooting another man in the foot.
Witnesses described a scene of chaos and panic as people inside the store rushed to escape.
Butcher turned himself in at the Fairbanks Police Department roughly 10 minutes after the first shots were fired and police said this week that his motive remained unclear.
A social media account belonging to Butcher states that he is a former Safeway employee, although Teal Soden, a spokeswoman for the police department, said officials are still working with the company to verify employment records. Corporate communications for Safeway have not responded to requests for comment about the shooting.
Police are investigating whether Butcher was targeting certain individuals or if the violence was random, Soden said. Titus’ family said they do not believe he was acquainted with Butcher.
“We’ve never heard of him,” Vanessa Joseph, Titus’ cousin, said about Butcher. Titus “was there at the wrong time and wrong place.”
Butcher has no previous criminal history and Fairbanks police have not had any interactions with him during the last five years, aside from when he was a witness to a bike theft in September, Soden said. Alaska State Troopers in Fairbanks said they are assisting another agency in an active investigation involving Butcher, but operations supervisor Colleen Spears said she could not confirm whether the investigation involved Sunday’s shooting. Troopers had no other interactions with Butcher in the last five years, she said.
The shooting has shaken the Fairbanks community, District Attorney Joseph Dallaire said at an arraignment hearing for Butcher on Monday. He described Butcher’s actions as an active shooter situation and said it was “akin to an act of domestic terrorism.”
While the consequences of the shooting will likely be felt throughout the community going forward, it will forever change the lives of Titus’ family, he said.
Joseph said Tuesday that her family is devastated by Titus’ death.
He was a longtime wildland firefighter who lived in Fairbanks for decades, she said. Titus was born in Minto, where his family plans to bury him, Joseph said.
Titus was an easygoing man who enjoyed making others laugh and went out of his way to help people, Joseph said. He loved being outdoors, she said.
In the days immediately following Titus’ death, Joseph said the family has received an outpouring of support.
“I can’t stop thinking of what happened and why, and I just can’t stop thinking of him,” she said. “It helps a lot seeing all those posts and being around everyone. All the support really helps us.”
Fairbanks police have asked that anyone who was in the store during the shooting and has not been contacted by police call the detective’s unit at 907-450-6550.
Butcher is being held on $10 million bail for a count of first-degree murder. Dallaire said additional charges are likely.