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The weapon used to ambush Anchorage Police officer Arn Salao at the corner of Cordova and Fifth Avenue early Saturday morning, has claimed at least five lives in the last year in the Anchorage area, Anchorage police say.
Officer Salao was responding to a theft call at 4:36 am on Saturday, and when he approached the suspect, now known to be 40-year-old James Dale Ritchie, Ritchie ambushed Salao while he was still in his patrol car, shooting him four times with a Colt Python .357.
Ritchie would in return, be shot by his would-be victim and another officer, Sgt Marc Patze, who arrived as the gunfire erupted near Office Depot on Fifth. Despite life-saving efforts, Ritchie succumbed at the scene. After two surgeries, Officer Salao is expected to survive.
Anchorage Police Chief Chris Tolley announced at a press conference today that the weapon used to shoot Officer Salao, was also used in at least five previously unsolved homicides since early July.
The homicides reported to have been committed with the weapon included:
Police revealed very few details in those three incidences, as local residents were surmising that a serial killer was once again on the loose in Anchorage. But, police were very close-lipped as information from the State Crime Lab connected the killings to a single weapon.
Lt. John MacKinnon, APD’s Homicide Unit’s head, explained at the press conference that information was with-held so as not to compromise the investigations. Lt Mackinnon stated, “If we had made a big deal about it, then it might have gotten lost or disposed of.”
APD says that even as they know the weapon was the same one used in all five killings, they have yet to conclude that Ritchie was the killer who wielded the weapon.
Investigators have not ruled out the possibility of the pistol being connected to additional unsolved cases.