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Tanana teen arrested in connection with trooper murders

By Hope Miller 10:26 AM May 2, 2014
ANCHORAGE –

A 20-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the killings of two Alaska State Troopers in Tanana, authorities say.

Sgt. Patrick “Scott” Johnson and trooper Gabriel “Gabe” Rich were fatally shot in the line of duty Thursday while conducting an investigation in the Interior village, troopers say. Both Johnson and Rich were members of the Fairbanks Rural Service Unit.

Johnson and Rich were in Tanana to follow up on a Wednesday night report that resident Arvin Morse Kangas, 58, had brandished a firearm at a village public safety officer, said trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters.

There was a dispute about the sale of a sofa between Arvin Kangas and another resident at a home. VPSO Mark Haglin was called, Arvin Kangas left the home and is believed to have driven an ATV and a station wagon while intoxicated. Haglin confronted Arvin Kangas, telling him to go home and not drive anymore, said Col. James Cockrell at a Friday press conference in Anchorage.

Haglin spotted the same station wagon on the road again and tracked it down at Arvin Kangas’ home. As Haglin drove by, he saw Arvin Kangas point a shotgun at him, according to a criminal complaint filed by Haglin. Haglin called troopers in Fairbanks about the confrontation.

When Johnson and Rich went to arrest Arvin Kangas Thursday afternoon, investigators say it turned into a struggle that spilled inside the house. And that, according to investigators, is when Arvin Kangas’ 20-year-old son, Nathanial Lee Kangas, shot the two troopers to death with a semi-automatic rifle.

In a written statement released Friday morning, Peters said Arvin Kangas and Nathanial Kangas had both been arrested. Nathanial Kangas was arrested for the murder of both Johnson and Rich, Peters said, and AST is currently preparing formal charges against him with the help of the Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals.

Arvin Kangas is charged with fourth-degree assault and driving with a revoked license.

The Alaska Bureau of Investigation is looking into the circumstances of the deaths, but it’s believed that Nathanial Kangas shot the men at about 3 p.m. Thursday, Cockrell said.

A SWAT team was sent and a home was taped off, said Tanana Traditional Chief Lester Erhart.

“Everything is hush hush, everybody is supposed to be in their homes,” he said Thursday night.

Ruby Cruger, manager of Tanakon Bed and Breakfast in Tanana, said the incident happened near her aunt’s house. She was there to visit, she said, and when she got to her aunt’s yard she saw people running.

The village is shocked and saddened, she said.

“It’s sad, it’s really sad,” Cruger said Thursday evening. “We have an elder that just passed away and her funeral is tomorrow. It’s just sad, all the way around, especially for the troopers. We’re just thinking of their wives, their kids, what they’re going to be going through. Nothing like this ever happened here.”

Nathanial Kangas was taken into custody shortly after the shootings, Cockrell said. Arvin Kangas ran to another residence and surrendered to troopers at about 10:25 p.m. Thursday.

Friday, the bodies of the two slain troopers were recovered from Tanana and taken to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage. A small procession accompanied their bodies from the airport to the medical examiner’s office, and law enforcement officers held a 24-hour vigil in their honor, Peters said.

There have been 14 previous line-of-duty deaths between troopers and state Department of Fish and Game personnel, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. The most recent fatality was a March 2013 aircraft accident involving a state trooper.

Tanana is located west of Fairbanks and has a population of less than 250, according to 2010 census data.

Sgt. Patrick “Scott” Johnson

Johnson, 45, was born in Fairbanks and grew up in Tok. He was a North Slope Borough police officer for three years before joining AST in 1993. He spent his entire 20-year career with troopers in Fairbanks, where he worked as a “patrol trooper; was a field training officer; was a canine officer, instructor and canine unit supervisor; supervisor of the Fairbanks Areawide Narcotics Team; patrol shift supervisor; an assistant team leader for the Northern Special Emergency Reaction Team (SERT); and finally rural unit sergeant,” according to a statement from troopers. Johnson is survived by his wife, daughters (ages 16, 14 and 12), parents and siblings.

Trooper Gabriel “Gabe” Rich

Rich, 26, was born in Pennsylvania, but moved to Fairbanks not long after he was born. He spent four years as a patrolman with the North Slope Police Department before becoming a trooper in 2011. Rich worked in Fairbanks patrol for most of his three-plus years as a trooper before moving to the rural unit. He is survived by his fiancee, their 1-year-old son and his parents. He was also in the midst of adopting his fiancee’s 8-year-old son, troopers said in a statement.

Memorial funds press release from Alaska State Troopers:

The Alaska Concerns of Police Survivors has established memorial funds at Wells Fargo Bank for Sergeant Scott Johnson and Trooper Gabe Rich. All proceeds from these accounts will go directly to the Families of the fallen.

Sergeant Scott Johnson Memorial Fund: Account Number 6157331387

Trooper Gabe Rich Memorial Fund: Account Number 6157331379

When making donations, please reference the account numbers. It is the easiest way for the bank to locate the correct accounts.

–Kirsten Swann, Lauren Maxwell and Dave Detling contributed reporting.

Editor’s note: Troopers originally reported Nathanial Kangas was 19 years old. According to charging documents, he is 20. The story has been revised.

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