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What others say: The killing of Alaska State Troopers in Tanana wounds us all

Posted: May 5, 2014 - 2:55pm  |  Updated: May 5, 2014 - 3:02pm

Anger and heartache.

Those are the words that quickly come to mind upon hearing of the killing of two Alaska State Troopers who had responded to an incident in Tanana.

Sgt. Patrick “Scott” Johnson, 45, and Trooper Gabriel “Gabe” Rich, 26, were part of the Rural Services Unit and based out of the troopers’ Fairbanks office. They became the 16th and 17th troopers killed in the line of duty.

Much remains to be learned about the events that occurred in Tanana. We know that one person, a 20-year-old male, has been charged with the killings and that a 58-year-old man also has been arrested. Both are from Tanana, and we will likely be learning a lot more about them in the days and weeks ahead.

A stream of anger may cascade onto the accused men. It is to be expected. But we must rely on our judicial system to satisfy it, if ever it can be satisfied once the facts are known.

Today, let us think of Sgt. Johnson and Trooper Rich, not of those involved in the events of last week. We know that these two officers of the law gave selflessly, like troopers across the state and like their brethren in other agencies do every day, in an effort to assist Alaskans and to keep the peace. The task is especially difficult for troopers, who have the vast landscape and unique situations of the Last Frontier to contend with.

We know that both men had strong Fairbanks connections.

Sgt. Johnson was born in Fairbanks, graduated from Tok School and spent all of his 20-year trooper career in Fairbanks. His name and photograph has appeared in the Daily News-Miner several times over the years, but not always in stories about crimes. He was featured prominently in 2005 as a handler and certified instructor for the trooper canines, which were truly his loves.

Sgt. Johnson and his trooper dog partner, Comco, an 80-pound German shepherd, began working together in Fairbanks in October 1995, right after Comco’s graduation from the eight-week Patrol Canine Academy. Comco was at his handler’s side all the time and retired to the Johnsons’ home in 2002.

“We had a very strong bond, being together 24/7,” he said in a story in 2005. “Comco always kept me in sight and everywhere we went, he’d go. I only left him once and couldn’t stop thinking about him. I had a miserable time.”

Trooper Rich moved with his family to Fairbanks shortly after his birth and graduated in 2006 from Lathrop High School. We know he was a solid hockey player at Lathrop, that he served four years in patrol with the North Pole Police Department before becoming a trooper in 2011, and that he worked as a patrol trooper out of Fairbanks for most of his brief time with the agency.

We know this is a difficult time — beyond difficult — for the Alaska State Troopers and for the families of Sgt. Johnson and Trooper Rich, two men killed while protecting others and serving Alaska.

Today, leave anger behind. Have only heartache.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, May 4

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