Editor's note: The original version of this column contained an error in describing what happened to Derrick Green after he shot and killed Anchorage Daily News employee Gerald Clarkson in 1987. Green went to prison, as the column explained, but was paroled under supervision in 2013.
An unhinged man walked into a Maryland newspaper office with a gun and opened fire. Could the same thing happen here?
It already has — more than once.
On May 6, 1987, 30-year-old Derrick Green, enraged because he been laid off by the Anchorage Daily News, entered the News plant on Northway Drive around 4 a.m. carrying a shotgun. He was looking for press supervisor Ken Carter, whom he blamed for the loss of his job. Carter was not there. Green turned on 26-year-old Gerald Clarkson and shot him to death.
Anchorage police responded quickly to emergency calls and subdued Green before he unleashed further mayhem.
I arrived at the paper about three hours after Clarkson's death. The Anchorage Daily News had become a crime scene.
At trial, Green pleaded guilty, and Judge Seaborn Bukalew sentenced him to 55 years with five years suspended. Green had no previous criminal record.
Throughout the past 30 years, Green has challenged his sentence citing various irregularities. His appeals were rejected, and he was released on supervised parole in 2013.
After the shooting, News executives took steps to comfort the staff and improve building security. In May 1988, Clarkson's friends planted a memorial crabapple tree on the edge of the parking lot in front of the building, accompanied by a plaque with Clarkson's name and the dates of his birth and death.
Today, the crabapple is tall, leafy and ignored.
Clarkson was a victim of Green's rage, but he also was a victim of bad luck. If events had unfolded a bit differently that morning, he might have survived.
Clarkson's place in public memory has suffered bad luck, too. When I mention the shooting to people old enough to remember the incident, they typically respond, "Aren't you're thinking of the guy who tried to kill Bob Atwood at The Anchorage Times?"
Well, there was such a guy. Cabdriver Don Ramsey. Ramsey, 41, entered the Times on Oct. 21, 1986, carrying a rifle, a handgun and smoke bombs. He was looking for publisher Atwood, who Ramsey said had pulled a full-page political advertisement Ramsey had paid for. The ad was a cry from the heart — in the tradition of letters to the editor. Atwood, after first approving it, may have taken a second look and concluded the ad was libelous.
When Ramsey reached the publisher's office packing heat and grievances, Atwood, a tall, trim man of 79 who dressed like a retired member of the Harvard Club, subdued him. Ramsey did get off a couple errant shots that hurt no one.
Atwood's cool in the face of death transformed him into a community hero. No question, he deserved recognition. He may have saved several lives, including that of his daughter Elaine, who was present when Ramsey arrived at Bob's office and rushed to help him as he tackled Ramsey.
Ramsey received a 25-year sentence with 10 suspended. He was released in January 1997 and died in December 2005. From time to time, he called me to complain nobody understood him. Probably nobody did.
On Feb. 19, 1997, Ramsey's son, 16 year-old Evan, shot up his school in Bethel, killing a student and a teacher. While awaiting trial, Evan wrote a letter to "Every Body" in which he concluded in all caps "LIFE SUCKS." In what appears to be a postscript, he added "I WAS NOT CRAZY (i think)." He was sentenced to 210 years and disappeared into the maw of the correctional system.
The Bethel killings are well remembered in Alaska and are known nationally as one of the early school shootings, of which there are many.
The Anchorage Times closed in 1992. But the story of Bob Atwood disarming Don Ramsey lives on. And the story of the shooting at the News, in which Clarkson died, had been so conflated with the incident at the Times that it's lost its place in public memory.
Atwood told his story many times, including on the witness stand. People asked him to repeat it, and he obliged. Clarkson never told his story. Facts don't speak for themselves. They need a voice.
On the afternoon of April 16, 1895, John Timmins began reading the Juneau Mining Record, a weekly, and his blood started to boil. The Record had a story about a fire in downtown Juneau. The fire department's response, the paper explained, had been slowed because a drunk appeared and began playing fire chief, directing the firemen. "Some people are inflated with the idea they were born to lead, and their egotism often places them before the public in the light of self-conceited asses," the Record said. Timmins knew who the paper was talking about, although no self-conceited ass was named. He got his gun.
Timmins rushed to the Record office at Second and Seward and badgered editor Frank Howard to apologize. Howard refused, calling the story "news, and it is satisfactory." Timmins pulled out his .38-caliber pistol and shot Howard twice, including once in the head.
The local doctor thought Howard would die. Howard, a big, strong man, lived another 35 years, although he gave up newspapering.
A few days after Howard met his maker in August 1930, the Alaska Weekly interviewed a Juneau "sourdough" W. John Harris. "I remember the occurrence well," reminisced Harris. And he re-told the story, noting that he had "hastened to the scene" after hearing gunshots.
Harris remembered the shooting so well he got the year Howard was shot wrong by more than a decade. Harris said it occurred in the "early '80s." The name Timmins is spelled incorrectly throughout the reminiscences. Harris was right when he said Timmins went to jail (a seven-year sentence) but wrong about what happened to him after he was released: He moved to Fairbanks, where he became a promoter and entrepreneur. He did not go to "the states" after jail.
Howard and Timmins both got a second chance. So did the story of the shooting and its aftermath, which, like the men themselves, changed with the passage of time.
Michael Carey is an Anchorage Daily News columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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