Every night brings a different experience in Emilio Garcia’s job. As an officer for the campus police department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), the Galt native might perform a DUI arrest one evening, and the next help a student dealing with depression caused by the dark Alaskan winter.
But the evening of Nov. 7 suddenly turned especially unusual when Garcia heard two attention-grabbing words over the scanner: “active shooter.”
Garcia, 25, was the first to respond to the shooting, which left one man dead and another injured. Because of the university’s location, the campus police often assist the Fairbanks Police Department with local incidents. The officer had been wrapping up his report on a previous call, but he quickly got ready to head to the scene, a nearby Safeway.
“As soon as I heard ‘active shooter,’ I was already sprinting out of the station to get to my car,” Garcia told the Herald in a phone interview. He put on extra body armor and drove to the Safeway as fast as the icy roads would safely allow.
When Garcia arrived, about five minutes after the initial 911 calls, he noted the lack of other first responders.
“In my mind I’m thinking, ‘Well, it’s just me. Here we go,’” Garcia recalled.
Getting out of his car, Garcia saw a man lying on the ground outside the entrance of the store, and bystanders hiding behind vehicles told him the shooter had run into the building. The officer checked the victim, who had been shot multiple times in the chest.
Garcia found no pulse and realized “there’s nothing I can do for this person, and I have to continue on.”
At that point, two officers from the nearby airport showed up and helped him clear the store, in which he spotted a 9mm handgun on the floor.
“It was very bizarre,” Garcia said of the scene, but he called on his experience in the U.S. Army. “As Army infantry, that’s what you do; you go and clear buildings.”
A 24-year-old man, who had been shot in the foot, was found behind the customer service desk. Both victims were transported to a local hospital. The first victim, identified by Fairbanks police as 41-year-old Harley Ray Titus, was pronounced dead; the 24-year-old victim, whose name has not been released, was treated for his injuries and released.
Roughly 10 minutes after the 911 calls, a man turned himself in to the Fairbanks police, according to a Nov. 8 statement on the department’s Facebook page. Joshua Eric Butcher, 41, was arrested and charged with first degree murder.
“At this time, no motive for the shooting has been identified,” the statement read.
“Officer Garcia is to be commended for his bravery and selfless actions,” read a letter of commendation from UAF police chief Kathy Catron. “He represents the courage and commitment expected of and exemplified by a University of Alaska Fairbanks Police Department police officer.”
Garcia’s father, Jesse Garcia, said he felt pride when he first heard about his son’s actions, and reading the commendation added to the emotion.
“Towards the end, I kind of choked up a little bit on that,” said Jesse, who works as a custodian at Lake Canyon Elementary School.
Ever since his childhood in Galt, the younger Garcia has had a clear vision of the career he wants: military service and then law enforcement work.
“When I was really little, I always wanted to be an Army guy … but I thought it was really cool what police officers did,” Garcia said. To get his schooling done more quickly, he transferred from Liberty Ranch High School to Estrellita High School, graduating a month early in 2015.
He was recruited for the Army and began training as an infantryman in Georgia before being stationed at Fort Wainwright in Alaska. After four years of service working with explosives and missiles, he reached the end of his enlistment, as well as his 21st birthday, the minimum age to be a police officer in Alaska.
He was first hired by the Fairbanks Police Department and eventually shifted to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Police Department.
Garcia spoke glowingly of the work environment with the UAF police, who he said listen to officers’ ideas and can devote time to individual cases. And he said watching officers from the Galt Police Department helped him decide his direction in life.
Now married to a “very lovely wife” and with two kids, the officer said he is “planning on spending a very long time here.”
“I’ve just always had this drive to do exactly this,” Garcia said.