Police defend decision to keep link among Anchorage killings secret

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) For months, Anchorage asked questions.

A gun similar to the one shown here was used in five Anchorage killings between July 3 and Aug. 28, police say, including the deaths of Jason Netter and Brianna Foisy (shown).

Were the killings related? The same gun? A serial killer?

And in each interview, public meeting and social media post, Anchorage police chose their words carefully.

“The worst thing we can do is speculate,” Police Chief Chris Tolley told a woman who asked the serial killer question Sept. 8 at Valley the Moon Park, where an anxious crowd gathered following the slayings of Brie De Husson and Kevin Turner.

The killings were among five homicides that police have now revealed were committed using the same .357 Colt Python. Police seized the revolver when officers shot and killed James Dale Ritchie Saturday Downtown.

While Ritchie has only been accused of one of the killings, the others are under investigation, the gun might have been the single most important piece of evidence in the slew of unsolved murders.

The existence of the unique handgun – known by police to be connected to multiple killings since late July – was kept hidden from the public.

[Q&A: Why are there so many killings this year in Anchorage?]

Today, homicide detectives talked about why they made that decision in a far-ranging Facebook Live video that revealed new details about the murder probe.

“Really through this whole investigation, that (gun) is absolutely the only clue that we had,” said Capt. Bill Miller. “That we could tie the cases together.”

Police wanted to avoid any misstep that could prompt the killer or killers to toss the weapon.

Miller said that an FBI behavioral analysis unit advised Anchorage police to withhold any information about the gun – model, caliber and the role it played connecting the crimes.

Fatal shootings linked to the handgun include the July 3 double homicide at North Post Road, the July 29 shooting of Treyveonkindell Thompson and the Valley of the Moon murders on Aug. 28.

By the end of summer, Facebook posts and online comments and a news story, citing second-hand police or FBI sources, asserted there was indeed a concrete link among the killings. Asked why police still refused to reveal any connection – wouldn’t it occur to the killer or killers that the gun was evidence at that point? -- police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said much of the chatter was incorrect.

“Clearly no one close to the investigation who actually knew what was going on was confirming any information,” she wrote in an email.

Marlin Ritzman, special agent in charge for the FBI in Alaska, said that saying the wrong thing in a potential serial murder case can have fatal consequences, spurring an attack. Using the term “serial killer” also invites an unwelcome spotlight that can swamp investigators with false leads.

”All of the sudden you will start getting calls from people outside of the state. Psychics. Other people who have never been to the state, they don’t know the victim,” Ritzman said.

In the Anchorage cases, the primary evidence linking the killings remains the gun. Ritchie has only been accused of one homicide to date, the East Anchorage shooting of Treyveonkindell Thompson. Detectives say they are working to close the other cases.

They now know that Ritchie was, indeed, paying attention to coverage of the case and to police announcements. Castro said evidence on his phone shows he had viewed news coverage of the double murders last week.

In an earlier example, when detectives released a picture of a bicycle taken from one of the victims, Ritchie ditched it. The bike has never been found.

“What we do know from our experience with the behavior analysis folks is that we do not want to provoke these people,” said Anchorage police Lt. John McKinnon. “They do follow us on the news. They do follow us on social media.”



 
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