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Village plans fundraisers for slain state troopers

  • Associated Press
  • May 9, 2014 - 4:35 PM

TANANA, Alaska — Residents of the small village where two Alaska State Troopers were gunned down are coping with the unwanted attention but trying to move forward.

"A lot of people have a lot of feelings about what has happened," said Therese Achton, school superintendent and principal of the Maudrey J. Sommer School in Tanana. Forty-one students attend, including the younger brother of the man charged in the shooting.

"The majority of the people I know have expressed solemn regret for what happened to the troopers. . They've been here in the school playing basketball; they're part of our community," Achton told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://bit.ly/1uJFgfk ).

A Fairbanks grand jury Thursday indicted Nathanial "Satch" Kangas, 20, on two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths May 1 of Sgt. Scott Johnson and Trooper Gabe Rich, who were assigned to rural law enforcement in 23 remote communities. They were part of a multiagency basketball team that took on teams of village students as an outreach effort and usually lost.

The officers had flown to Tanana to arrest Kangas' father. A village public safety officer had reported that Arvin Kangas had driven without a license and pointed a rifle at him.

Johnson and Rich contacted Arvin Kangas, and as he tried to go into his home, they struggled. Nathanial Kangas emerged with an assault rifle and fired seven shots into the backs of the troopers, according to investigators.

Nathanial Kangas was taken into custody by the village officer, but other troopers, including a Special Emergency Response Team, poured in to the village to arrest Arvin Kangas. He was indicted Thursday on charges of evidence tampering and hindering prosecution.

The community 130 miles west of Fairbanks near the confluence of the Yukon and Tanana rivers has since seen a rotation of troopers and village public safety officers. Many of the 240 residents offer sympathy for the loss of the officers and gifts of food. Fairbanks-based Sgt. Jody Potts said she's eaten so much pie, she's gaining weight.

"One of my main goals is just to have, especially kids, humanize us," Potts said. "I've been here playing with the kids. Especially after the SERT team was here a lot of kids are scared of law enforcement."

James Hoelscher, a village public safety officer from Hooper Bay, flew in from more than 500 miles away to help in Tanana. He wore a badge with a black sash to honor the fallen officers. Residents stopped to talk in front of the community store and offer condolences.

"Everyone I've met so far has been real friendly," he told them. "I appreciate your kind words. All of you guys."

Villagers organized a cakewalk and basketball tournament to raise money for the officers' families. Students signed cards that will be presented at the memorial service Saturday in Fairbanks. Tanana's two churches are organizing a memorial gathering and bell ringing Saturday on the banks of the Yukon River at about the same time as the service.

Achton on Wednesday was trying to pull together a graduation ceremony for the school's three seniors. She was awaiting a shipment of helium for balloons. All three seniors are boys, she said — and they've not been as been as helpful with decorating as graduating classes with girls.

© 2014 Star Tribune