A man armed with a rifle foiled what authorities say was an attempted mass murder in Alaska earlier this month.
On May 16, 19-year-old Bryan Nicolai broke into the Public Safety Building in Kwethluk, a remote city of just over 700 residents located about 400 miles west of Anchorage. Nicolai activated the building’s fire alarm system before breaking into one of the building’s offices. There, he found a ballistic vest, a helmet, and multiple rifles, which he staged throughout the building, according to an Alaska State Trooper incident report.
Community residents began responding to the fire alarm, including Village Public Safety Officers (VPSO), who do not carry firearms on patrol. Officer Tiger Lee was the first to respond to the incident, and he told Alaska Public Radio (APR) that Nicolai pointed a rifle at him and pulled the trigger.
“I believe he wasn’t aware that the rifle was empty, and I could have been shot,” Lee said.
Nicolai grabbed another rifle and began firing Lee’s direction while the officer hid behind a shipping container.
That’s when Casey Thompson stepped in and ended the incident without firing a shot.
“A community member that initially arrived and observed what was happening, fled the area, returned with a rifle and was able to talk Nicolai into lowering his weapon and lay on the ground,” according to the police report.
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Lee expressed gratitude that Thompson had a gun, APR reported, and he thinks he and his fellow officers should be able to carry them.
“If we had access to firearms, we’d be able to handle more of these scenarios on our own,” Lee said.
Kwethluk Public Safety Administrative Chief Nicolai Joseph told APR that none of the ten officers in his village carry firearms. Some carry batons and pepper spray, but others only have handcuffs.
Deputy Chief David Berezkin said that officers do not carry firearms because the required training is too expensive. The training takes two to three months in the lower 48, and Joseph said that the city can’t afford to be sued for improper use of force.
Berezkin also pointed out that incidents involving guns are rare in the village, and that sometimes the presence of a gun can escalate rather than deescalate the situation.
“We don’t deal with this every day, you know?” Berezkin said.
Lee also believes he could have talked Nicolai down if Thompson hadn’t stepped in. He told APR that his previous experience dealing with people who want to harm themselves has taught him to ask questions and convince them that he’s there to help.
“What are they feeling? Why are they feeling that?” Lee said. “And if there’s anything I can do to help. That I can do, or my fellow officers, or my fellow community members can do to help them feel better.”
Thompson declined to talk with local media about the incident and has not responded to GunsAmerica’s request for comment.