The handgun authorities allege a man used to injure an Alaska police officer this weekend has been linked to five unsolved homicides — potentially revealing the identity of a suspected serial killer, police announced Tuesday.
James Dale Ritchie, 40, was killed in a shootout with police in Anchorage, Alaska, on Saturday after allegedly shooting officer Arn Salao several times, NBC News reports. Now, police say they have linked Ritchie’s weapon to five killings in the city, whose residents have reportedly been on edge for months about a possible serial killer.
“The gun was unloaded on this officer,” Anchorage Police Chief Chris Tolley said at a news conference on Tuesday, calling the situation “heartbreaking.”
“We know from our investigation in the last 78 hours that the gun used to attempt to kill officer Salao was the same gun used in five other homicides here in Anchorage in 2016,” Tolley said.
He added, “We still have not linked the suspect to these cases, so we still have more work to do.”
Tolley said Salao, a “fighter,” remained hospitalized Tuesday and is recovering after two emergency operations, NBC reports.
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Ritchie allegedly ambushed Salao early Saturday morning, when the officer responded to a report that Ritchie refused to pay cab fare after a ride, the Associated Press reports. He allegedly shot Salao repeatedly, but the officer returned fire and another officer arrived and joined the shootout.
Ritchie died at the scene, according to the AP.
Authorities later learned that the Colt Python .357 he allegedly used to shoot Salao was also used in the July 3 slayings of Jason Netter Sr., 41 and 20-year-old Brianna Foisy as well as the July 29 killings of 21-year-old Treyveonkindell Thompson and the Aug. 28 killings of Kevin Turner, 34, and 25-year-old Bryant DeHusson, the Alaska Dispatch News reports.
In September, more than 100 concerned residents met with Tolley and Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz as rumors of a serial killer spread throughout the city, according to KTUU.
“Are we actually safe?” one resident asked then. “It doesn’t feel safe.”
Police said recently that although Ritchie has not yet been linked to the previous shooting deaths, his driver’s license photo resembles a composite sketch of the suspect in at least one of the killings.
“One thing I can tell you: This murderer, it’s the worst possible thing,” Chief Tolley said Tuesday. “Because of the heroic actions of these Anchorage police officers, they have made sure that this individual will not hurt any one of you or any one of the citizens in Anchorage.”
While the revelations brought new breaks in months-old cases, some of the victims’ relatives hope for more answers.
As Kevin Turner’s brother told the Dispatch News, “I want to know where was he shot, how long was he alive, did he suffer? These are the things I’d like to know.”