Suspect sought in pepper-spraying of Spenard protest group
Several members of a left-leaning political group meeting in Spenard say they were sickened and temporarily blinded Saturday afternoon, after police say a man filled the room with pepper spray.
Officials with the Alaska Grassroots Alliance said they had been gathered at the Anchorage Community House, a small venue attached to the Church of Love near 36th Avenue and Spenard Road, shortly after 2 p.m. About 15 members of the group were there training to participate in non-violent demonstrations, set to begin shortly after Mother’s Day, when the incident occurred.
APD spokesman MJ Thim said officers were called at 2:09 p.m. to the Church of Love, at 3502 Spenard Rd., for a report that about 10 people had been sprayed. Police said in a Tuesday statement accompanying images of the suspect that all of the victims "suffered varying degrees of discomfort and pain; medics responded and treated them for exposure."
"Apparently the suspect walks in and sprays pepper spray and walks out," Thim said. "We don't have many witnesses because not many people in the room saw him -- the church doesn't have surveillance video, but we do know businesses in the surrounding area have surveillance cameras."
Several members of the group discussed the encounter in a video posted Saturday afternoon by Jennifer Flynn Walker.
“The door swung open and someone started spraying – all I could see was orange spray coming right at my face,” alliance organizer Joni Bruner said in the video. “The fire department had to evacuate the building, and they’re decontaminating everything inside.”
Another organizer, Soren Wuerth, said he didn't see the spray until it hit him.
“I thought it was someone coming in maybe late and the next thing I noticed, coming back from behind me because I was facing away from the door, was this cloud of orange," Wuerth said. “I was blinded instantly -- I had to grope for an exit. I knew the more that I breathed I was going to be incapacitated; I found my way outside, tried to regroup, tried to get back inside to help people.”
Anchorage Fire Department Assistant Chief Alex Boyd said two AFD units had been called to the Church of Love at about 2:15 p.m., in response to a police request for assistance.
“They’re treating people who were pepper-sprayed,” Boyd said.
According to Thim, police are looking for the man responsible as well as any surveillance imagery available of him.
"He's described as a white male in his 60s wearing a black shirt, black leather vest and blue jeans," Thim said. "His hair is white and gray and he had a beard."
Wuerth condemned the incident Saturday afternoon in the Facebook video, as he and others recovered outside the building.
“It’s an action of hate, and it’s just layered in irony and irony and the fact that this is the Church of Love in Spenard,” Wuerth said.
Thim asked that anyone with information or video from the incident call APD at 311, or contact Anchorage Crime Stoppers at 907-561-STOP or through its website.
Kevin Kelleher contributed information to this story.
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