Woodsman facing attempted murder charges in Homer siege

Posted: Sunday, April 08, 2001

HOMER (AP) -- A backwoods loner is accused of opening fire on an occupied cabin in the hills behind Homer.

John Powell, 38, is charged with three counts of attempted murder in connection with the attack last week. Powell, who also faces 11 assault and weapons charges, was being held in the Homer jail Friday, according to Alaska State Troopers.

No one was injured in the shooting incident, which ended early Friday morning when trooper Sgt. Jim Hibpshman talked the gunman into surrendering.

Powell was known by several nicknames, including ''Dark Star'' and ''Walking John.'' Locals say he frequently walked the rural roads with his black Labrador dog. He lived alone in a tiny cabin about a mile off Ohlson Mountain Road, his only heat source a fire in his yard.

Neighbors in the Ohlson Mountain area said Friday he was often frightening and belligerent.

The incident started around 11 p.m. Thursday when Gabe Ritchie, 27, lit a candle by a window of his cabin and sat down to read. Gunshots rang out, heavy lead pellets smacking into the side of his home.

''After the second shot, I was on my way up the stairs to hide under the bed,'' Ritchie told the Anchorage Daily News. ''I was totally certain who was shooting at me.''

Ritchie and his partner, Susan Malone, live a mile and a half off the road. They share a foot trail with Powell and had run-ins in the past, Ritchie said.

''He said we were ruining the environment,'' said Ritchie, who lives without electricity and hauls water from a spring. A month ago, after Malone had an operation, the couple got a snowmachine for the commute to the road. Powell especially hated snowmachines, Ritchie said.

Ritchie and Malone hid under the upstairs bed and built a bunker with books. Malone dialed 911 on a cellphone, but the connection was scratchy and unclear.

''I could hear him screaming my name,'' Ritchie said. ''We were just fish in a barrel.''

Meanwhile David Baird, 39, cruised into the clearing on his snowmachine. He heard shots, sped away, became disoriented, and found himself heading into the clearing a second time. This time he saw slugs hitting the snow in front of him.

''I punched it to get out of there and lost control,'' Baird said. He crashed into a tree and the night fell quiet. The shooter ordered Baird to come out into the moonlight.

Baird said Powell railed at snowmachines, then said he wouldn't kill him if he'd go to the cabin and tell Ritchie to come out. Baird walked to the door, knocked and called out his own name. The door opened and Baird slipped inside.

''He was kind of stunned,'' Ritchie said. ''The guy is just lost on a snowmachine and suddenly he falls straight into hell.''

The three slipped quickly out the back and into the woods. Malone, still recovering from her operation, couldn't run. She and Ritchie hid beneath a spruce tree. Baird kept going. When there was no sign of troopers, the other two followed into the woods.

The troopers later arrived on snowmachines. Hibpshman called out and Powell answered. For 20 minutes they negotiated. Finally, Powell came out of the woods and surrendered the shotgun after Hibpshman promised to let him gather things from his cabin before going to jail.

Ritchie said he and Malone had hiked about three miles from the cabin before they heard the trooper helicopter searching for them. Baird said he walked and ran about 10 miles without stopping to get home.

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