Sometimes, law enforcement personnel stumble into a situation that seems normal but turns out to be anything but routine. This was definitely the story when police in Anchorage, Alaska shot and killed a man in November 2016.
Early on the morning of November 12, 2016, police officer Arn Salao received a call about an unpaid cab fare in downtown Anchorage. Salao approached 40-year-old James Dale Ritchie to ask him about the incident. Ritchie ignored the officer initially, but then turned around and opened fire, hitting Salao multiple times. Salao and a fellow officer returned fire and killed Ritchie.
The man who lay dead on the pavement seemed like another common criminal, but police soon discovered that there was much more to the story than they initially believed.
James Dale Ritchie grew up in Anchorage and was a star high school athlete. He scored 1200 on his SATs and was determined to play Division I football. Ritchie tried to play as a walk-on at the University of West Virginia but returned home to Anchorage after just one semester in 1995. Once back in Alaska, Ritchie quickly found himself immersed in a life of crime, primarily drugs and dog fighting. In the decade after Ritchie dropped out of University, he had several run-ins with Anchorage Police.
He served two years in prison, and in 2013 moved to Virginia, where his parents lived at the time. Ritchie attempted to lead a law-abiding life in Virginia, taking college classes and working towards his goal of becoming an engineer. In March 2016, Ritchie decided to move back to his native Anchorage, and it was back in Alaska that something went terribly wrong for James Dale Ritchie.
In July and August 2016, Anchorage police had five unsolved murders on their hands – two double homicides and the murder of a 21-year-old man. Tests revealed that all five shootings were linked to the same gun. The first double homicide occurred along a bike path, and the second in a public park. The Anchorage Police Department warned citizens to avoid trails after dark. A $10,000 reward was offered by the FBI for information leading to the killer.
On the night of the deadly encounter of November 12, 2016, police confiscated the gun Ritchie used to shoot officer Arn Salao. Ballistics tests showed that Ritchie’s gun was the murder weapon in the five unsolved murders in Anchorage. Alaska’s latest serial killer had been caught and identified.
Ritchie’s link to one of the victims caught many in Anchorage by surprise. Treyveon-Kindell Thompson was killed by Ritchie on July 29, 2016. Treyveon-Kindell, 21, was the son of Bobby Thompson, a childhood friend of Ritchie’s. In fact, when he was growing up in Anchorage, Ritchie used to stay with the Thompson family, sometimes for weeks at a time. Bobby Thompson does not believe that his son was targeted by the serial killer who had once been his friend, but that Treyveon-Kindell was a victim of opportunity. Thompson said, “I don’t think that he would have knew” that the young man was his son.
The story of James Dale Ritchie is nothing if not a tragic one. A young life once so full of promise, but that, in the end, spiraled out of control and took the lives of five innocent people.
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