Charges: Army veteran shot 2 in downtown encounter
Police say an Army veteran, accused of shooting and wounding two people in Anchorage Wednesday, claimed that he opened fire when one of them approached him with a hammer in an ongoing dispute.
Rusty Tuuaga, 34, was taken into custody on charges including attempted murder after the shooting, which left a man with life-threatening injuries and a woman with non-life-threatening injuries. Police said overnight that the incident appeared to be drug-related.
U.S. Army Alaska officials said Thursday that Tuuaga had left the Army last week on May 6, as a specialist with Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson’s 725th Support Battalion.
A charging document in the case, written by Assistant District Attorney Arne Soldwedel, said the wounded man said Tuuaga’s first name “several times” when police reached the 600 block of East 5th Avenue shortly after 8:45 p.m. The victims were taken to separate Anchorage hospitals with torso wounds, with the man arriving in critical condition.
Surveillance video from the shooting showed the victims getting out of a Jeep Grand Cherokee, then approaching a sport-utility vehicle they had blocked in; one of them had “an item that may have been a hammer” in his hand.
Although the video didn’t show the shooting itself, Soldwedel said, it did show a man – identified by a nearby hotel manager as the shooter – “bending down several times” over the victims before running away.
When police spoke with the wounded woman, she said she and the man who was shot had approached the SUV because they recognized it as Tuuaga’s and he had taken property of theirs. When she approached the SUV, she saw that there were “numerous occupants” in the SUV, then began struggling with Tuuaga as he tried to get out of the front passenger seat.
Soon after the male victim approached with a hammer he had brought from the Jeep, the woman said, Tuuage shot him.
“[The shot woman] stated that she also went down and did not immediately realize that she had been shot too,” Soldwedel said. “[She said] that Tuuaga hovered over her and [the male victim] and was grinning before running away.”
When detectives spoke with Tuuaga, who was found near the scene of the shooting by officers, Soldwedel said he described the shooting as an act of self-defense. He said he used a 10mm Glock pistol during the encounter, which he got from a cousin because “he was growing tired of [the victims] following him and asking for their property back.”
When the Jeep approached Wednesday night, Tuuaga told police, he loaded the handgun and cycled a round into the chamber. He shot the man because he was “afraid for his safety” when he approached with the hammer, but admitted that he shot the woman “because he was angry.”
“Tuuaga stated that he shot toward the center of mass on each of the victims as he had been taught to do in the U.S. Army,” Soldwedel wrote. “Tuuaga admitted that he intended to kill [both victims] by shooting them center of mass.”
Officers found a hammer and a 10mm shell casing at the scene, Soldwedel said. The Glock was found buried nearby, “exactly where Tuuaga told police it would be.”
At an arraignment hearing Thursday afternoon, Tuuaga gave simple yes-or-no answers to a judge’s questions. His bail was set at $100,000 each cash appearance and corporate performance, with home monitoring required for his release.
Daniella Rivera contributed information to this story.
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