Kwethluk man broke into VPO building, took guns in evidence locker, fired at officers, troopers say

Kwethluk River from above. Credit Bethel Search and Rescue

A Kwethluk man broke into the village’s public safety building on May 15 and shot at a village police officer, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Nobody was injured during the incident. Troopers arrested Brian Nicolai, 19, who is charged with attempted murder and being held at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Correctional Center.

Once Nicolai broke into the public safety building, troopers said that he activated the village’s fire alert system. Village Police Officer Tiger Lee was the first to respond. When he approached, he saw Nicolai standing in front of the building with a ballistic vest, a helmet, and a weapon.

“I didn’t notice he had a rifle on him until I got about 10 to 15 feet in front of him,” Lee said. “And then he pulled up the rifle, and ended up pulling the trigger without any gunfire. I heard the gun click, and that’s when I started to run towards cover and when I noticed he pulled up another rifle.”

Lee said that he took cover around 30 to 40 feet away as he heard several gunshots fired in his direction. VPOs in Kwethluk do not carry any firearms themselves.

According to Administrative Chief of Public Safety Nicholai Joseph, the shooter forced the locked door of the building open and broke into the evidence locker, where he found several rifles. Joseph said that the guns had been confiscated as evidence from other cases.

Another VPO, Wassillie Nick, and a resident, Casey Thompson, arrived at the scene next. The VPOs tried to enter the public safety building from the other side to get behind Nicolai, but heard him inside so they retreated. When the officers returned to the front of the building, Lee said that they found Nicolai on the ground. 

Troopers reported that a community member was able to talk Nicolai into lowering his weapon and laying on the ground. Once Nicolai was on the ground, the VPOs put him in handcuffs and Lee asked him the reason for his actions.

“He said he’d seen it in a movie and that’s how he told me. I couldn’t make sense of what he was trying to say,” Lee said.

Once VPOs placed Nicolai in a cell, they called troopers, who they said arrived within a half hour. Troopers said that they were investigating a different incident in Tuluksak, a nearby village. Troopers also reported that multiple rifles were found staged inside the building.

Nicolai was arraigned on May 17, where his bail was set at $20,000, according to District Attorney Tom Hoffer. He has been charged with attempted murder, assault, burglary, criminal mischief, and criminal trespassing. His next court appearance is scheduled for June 17 in Bethel.