ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The handgun used to wound an Anchorage police officer last weekend has been linked to five previously unsolved homicides this year in Alaska's largest city, police said Tuesday.
Lt. John McKinnon, head of the city police's homicide division, said the Colt Python .357 revolver was linked through ballistics to two double homicides and one other killing.
"It is just heartbreaking," Anchorage Police Chief Chris Tolley told reporters.
The gun was used by James Dale Ritchie, 40, early Saturday morning to ambush police officer Arn Salao, who was responding to a report that a man hadn't paid a cab fare.
Even after he was shot repeatedly, Salao returned fire as he jumped out of his police cruiser. Sgt. Marc Patzke arrived at the same time and also shot at the suspect, Tolley said. Ritchie was killed in the exchange.
McKinnon said the guns had been used in the July 3 shootings deaths of Jason Netter and Brianna Foisy, whose bodies were found on a trail near downtown Anchorage; in the July 29 death of Treyveonkindell Thompson, who was found on an isolated street, and the Aug. 28 deaths of Bryant De Husson and Kevin Turner, who were both shot in the Valley of the Moon Park near downtown Anchorage.
Detectives continue to look into Ritchie's past, and McKinnon asked the public to provide any information they could about him.
"He hadn't been on our radar for a while in Anchorage, so that's part of what they're trying to determine is, where he's been, who he'd lived with, what other contacts he had," said Anchorage District Attorney Clint Campion. "He hasn't had any real police contact in the last decade in Alaska."
Campion said the five homicide cases remain open because the link to the gun provides investigative leads that need to be pursued. He said Anchorage police would be working with various agencies in the state in the investigation.
The gun was not registered to Ritchie, police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said.
"What I'd be looking at is to see what the evidence is and which way that points us," Campion said. "I think the firearm is a significant lead in that direction, and there's other investigation that need to be done."
Tolley said actions of Salao and Patzke in returning fire at Ritchie were heroic and "made sure that this individual will not hurt any one of you or any one of the citizens of Anchorage. I'm so very, very proud of them."
Salao was hit at least four times in the lower part of his body, with bullets fracturing bones, ripping apart muscles and going through the intestine and lodging in his liver, Tolley said.
He underwent seven hours of surgery on Saturday. Tolley said the officer is recuperating at an Anchorage hospital, and has been moved out of the intensive care unit.
"The officer is a fighter," Tolley said, adding Salao is determined to live.
Salao has been a patrol officer since joining the force in October 2011. Patzke has been with the force since November 2007.
Associated Press reporter Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska, contributed to this report.