End of Watch: Remembering FPD's John Kevin Lamm, 20 years later

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FAIRBANKS (KTUU) - It was twenty years ago that Fairbanks police responded to a call for a welfare check that ended with two officers wounded - one fatally - and the suspect having turned his own gun on himself.

That year, on a day meant to be a celebration of the past year and the new year ahead, Fairbanks and its law enforcement community, along with other friends and family, were instead mourning the death of one of their own killed in the line of duty.

* * *

The date was Jan. 1, 1998, when Fairbanks Police Dept. Officer John Kevin Lamm and now-Lieutenant Matt Soden were called in for a welfare check at a Fairbanks basement apartment. The pair, both 26 years old at the time, were enlisted by the girlfriend of a man who she said was "possibly suicidal."

"We were short that night," Lt. Soden said, reflecting on the events that transpired. "We had overtime blocks filled, and that's what Kevin was working, was one of those overtime blocks."

The two were dispatched to the welfare check. Sensing a more serious situation upon arrival, a third officer, the FPD lieutenant on call, also came to help.

Knocking first, then calling for the man to call out, they received no answer. After pushing the main door open into a cluttered living room, almost soon as they entered the residence, the suspect fired at them.

"We were going to clear the apartment and see if we could find him," Lt. Soden said. "And as I got near the Christmas tree, we heard a shot. At the time we thought he'd shot himself, but didn't know for sure."

And then, another shot rang out.

"So we started to move out; the third officer started to leave, and then a second shot came out," Soden said. "That's the one that hit me in the head. Struck me in the forehead, knocked me down, pretty much unconscious."

Soden was down, but not out, and able to radio FPD that he'd been shot. He began trying to move toward the front door in order to escape.

"That's when Kevin started to engage the subject in gunfire," Soden recalled.

Having lost a portion of his memory from that night, Soden said he doesn't remember the exact details from the time he was shot, but a few things stand out: He was bleeding profusely from his head, and his partner, Lamm, wasn't next to him.

"Kevin (Lamm) was down behind the couch, not moving, and I couldn't see the subject," Soden said.

"The next thing was kind of coming to outside the door," he continued. "I was just outside the door we'd entered. I was lying on my back. I thought I was in a pool of blood, but it turned out to (mostly) be water.

"A bullet had hit a hot water pipe," he said. "And at that point, the shooting was done."

After Soden's call, ambulances arrived, and - half-conscious - he was whisked away to a local hospital. His partner was still inside when he left.

"The fact I couldn't go in and get Kevin," Soden said, "I didn't know where the suspect was, and thought if I went in or anybody else went in, he'd open fire and kill the rest of us.

"If I have a regret, it's that I didn't go in and get Kevin," Soden said. "I know it was tactically the right thing to do - to not. But he was, at the time, my best friend."

After a 90-minute standoff, a tactical team did make entry to the apartment, where they found Lamm, and the body of the suspect, 27-year-old Joey Lee Dewolf. He'd died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The Juneau Empire reports Dewolf had stockpiled 400 rounds of ammunition inside the apartment.

* * *

John Kevin Lamm began his law enforcement career in October of 1993, according to the North Pole Police Dept. He started at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, worked with NPPD, and began serving with FPD in February of 1995.

In 1998, he'd been with the Fairbanks department for almost three years.

Lt. Lonny Piscoya of the Alaska State Troopers was another close friend of his. Piscoya had recently transferred from Galena when he first met Lamm.

"I was just a road trooper stopping cars," Lt. Piscoya said, "and I began to stop cars, and all of a sudden, a police officer started to show up.

"They had the baby blue Crown Vics," he said. "He would stay about a hundred feet away, and he'd watch me, and give a thumbs up. And it happened again. And again. And pretty soon, I figured out who it was."

It was Officer Lamm.

"Then I decided to do the same thing," Piscoya said. "So I'd hear, and I'd drift over to where he'd stopped, and I'd sit there and watch and make sure he was okay. And that's how we became friends."

Like Soden, Piscoya remembers Lamm as a hard worker, full of life and full of heart.

"Big heart," he said, "that only wants to make sure we'll be alright. That was his No. 1 thing, is to get home.

"I'm sure he'd be a sergeant or a lieutenant by now," he said.

* * *

Doctors were working on Soden when Lamm was finally brought in to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, at the time equipped with only a few emergency room units. They ended up in adjoining rooms.

"There was a wall, but I could hear them working on him," Soden said. "And then, one of the nurses came in. She came in, and she is the one that told me he died.

"I already knew it, but she put it to words," he said, wiping away tears. "It was just heartbreaking, to have somebody you were close with taken that quickly. It was devastating. And it was devastating for days to come for everybody involved."

Days, weeks, years, and now decades: Though the pain has dulled a bit, as time goes on, so does Lamm's legacy.

Channel 2 multimedia journalist Blake Essig contributed to this report.