The sole highway heading south out of Anchorage was closed for 12 hours from Wednesday night into Thursday morning because of what police described as a “distraught man.” A manhunt is still underway for a suspect who allegedly discharged a weapon multiple times. The incident, combined with avalanches in the area, trapped area residents and knocked out power.
Alaska State Troopers were notified shots had been fired at the highway pull-off by Beluga Point shortly after 8 p.m. Wednesday. According to Department of Public Safety spokesperson Megan Peters, officers from the Anchorage Police Department and Troopers from a post in Seward tried to contact the suspect immediately thereafter.
“The subject did fire off a handgun,” Peters said by phone. An APD SWAT team responded to the scene, along with the Trooper’s Special Emergency Reaction Team. “Then the highway was shut down due to public safety concerns associated with the incident.”
The suspect is 36-year-old Kevin Thibodeau, identified in his LinkedIn profile as a former U.S. Army captain who now works as a communications manager for Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation, the group representing shareholders in Utqiagvik.
Though the highway was re-opened at about 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Thibodeau has not yet been located. The investigation is being led by the state’s Department of Public Safety. Peters said a handgun and “other evidence” were discovered in the area, a rugged stretch of terrain pressed between the rocky shores of Cook Inlet to one side, and steep cliffs just across the road way.
“Our search efforts for him are ongoing in the area to include the waters of the inlet,” Peters said. “If anyone has any information regarding his whereabouts they are advised to call 911. And if you see him do not attempt to contact him on your own. Please just call law enforcement.”
The road closure stranded anyone trying to travel between Anchorage and the communities along Turnagain Arm down to Girdwood and the Kenai Peninsula.
On top of that, there was an unplanned avalanche by mile post 98.7 of the Seward Highway that knocked out equipment, shutting down power to many of the same affected residents.
Grace Greene lives in Girdwood and commutes her job with Tote Maritime at an office by the Port of Anchorage. She and her family went to bed Wednesday without power, and no way to charge their depleted cellphones.
“The alarm goes off around 5:30 in the morning, I noticed that I had received a text message — with the 10 percent battery life that I had left — that the school buses were not able to make it down to Girdwood, but the Girdwood school would operate as normal,” Greene said in a call Thursday morning. “Power was still out at that point, but we were starting to get up and go through our normal routine.”
According to the Chugach Electric company, repair crews had to be escorted by APD down the closed section of highway in order to fix a power substation by Hope and restore electricity to the area before 8 a.m. Greene spent the day working from home with her young son who goes to pre-school in Anchorage, and said the experience was a good reminder about life in a community with only one road in either direction.
“In Alaska we rely daily on critical infrastructure, and when something comes up and the road gets closed, not only can people not get to and from their homes, but it stops the flow of the supply chain,” Greene said.
According to Troopers, the ongoing search for Thibodeau is dependent on weather.