After vehicle crashes into church, Anchorage parishioner makes arrest

    Parishioners at St. Nicholas of Myra Church heard what sounded like an explosion just moments before Father Joseph Wargacki was about to read from the Gospels on June 21.

    Church crash lead 2
    A Suburban crashed into St. Nicholas of Myra Byzantine Catholic Church during Sunday’s Divine Liturgy.

    The small Byzantine Catholic parish tucked along Anchorage’s Arctic Blvd. had been hit at high speed by a large Suburban. The impact shook the parish and startled the Sunday faithful.

    Several parishioners, led by 27-year-old Anthony Heller, sprang into action and ran outside to see what had happened. Heller, a concealed handgun carrier, was at church with his fiancé, their young son and his father. He bolted through the front doors and saw the badly damage automobile smashed into the corner support beam of the church. Three of the vehicle doors were open and two men were running from the scene.

    Heller had a split second to decide what to do.

    “I thought I should probably start chasing them,” he said.  “One of them was really fast, but the other one I caught up to.”

    Running for about a block, Heller said he yelled repeatedly for the suspect to stop. When he refused, Heller sprinted in front of him and drew his Ruger pistol.

    “He could clearly see I had a firearm,” Heller recalled. “He put his hands up and said, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong.’ I asked him, ‘then why are you running?’”

    Heller told the man to get on the ground where he held him until police arrived.

    Church crash lead3
    Father Joseph Wargacki leads parishioners in worship at St. Nicholas of Myra Church in Anchorage.

    “When I saw the police coming, I hit the magazine release in my firearm and ejected it,” he said. “I put the firearm on the ground, put my hands up and backed away.”

    He said a police officer spoke with him briefly and placed the suspect in handcuffs and put him in the patrol car. Another officer approached the scene and told Heller “Good job,” he said.

    “I could have let him go, but I am a young man,” Heller explained. “I carry this firearm, and while it is for defending  my family, when something like this happens that is so reckless and crazy, I can’t let him get away and do this again and hurt someone. If he had hit the church three feet to the right, he could have killed three or four people, because he probably would have gone straight through the wall instead of hitting the support beam, and he would have plowed right through the people who were literally right on the other side of the wall.”

    Father Wargacki, who said the crash happened during a high-speed chase, expressed pride in his young parishioner for apprehending one of the suspects.

    “He just bolted out the door and saw the suspects running down the side street,” Wargacki said. “It was fortunate that they were able to get one of them.”

    Wargacki was grateful no parishioners were injured.

    “Unfortunately, things like this happen in the world,” he said. “We don’t know all the details of why, but thank God nobody was hurt.”

    An Anchorage Fire Department official examined crash site, Wargacki said. While there was considerable damage to the outside wall and front doors, the building was deemed safe for public use.

    “So, we resumed our liturgy again about a half hour later,” Wargacki said. “We continued our business and had our usual coffee hour afterwards. We definitely had something to talk about.”

    Heller, who was baptized at St. Nicholas as an infant, said he was grateful for having decided to carry a concealed firearm.

    “Thank God I did, because you never know when you’re going to need it,” he said. “I think I did the right thing.”

    Click here to support the Alaska Watchman.

    Joel Davidson
    Joel Davidson
    Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 20 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.

    Share this article

    Related articles

    Leave a reply

    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here


    Alaska Watchman relies on the generous support of our readers. All donations go directly to supporting and expanding our news coverage. Please consider becoming a regular supporter.

    Select a Donation Option (USD)

    Enter Donation Amount (USD)


    Personal Info

    Donation Total: $100.00

    Stay Informed

    Receive breaking stories and analysis from the Alaska Watchman directly to your inbox for free.

    No spam ever. Guaranteed.

    Latest articles

    Abortion is the paramount political issue

    “The future of Alaska is at stake!” “The future of America is at stake!” Liberals, conservatives,...

    The ‘equity’ police are really after political power

    Both in Alaska and around the country we hear a lot these days about the quest for “equity” in city council meetings,...

    Ballot Measure 2 replaces fair elections with political trickery

    You’ve likely heard the saying that politicians are like diapers: they should be changed often, and for the same reason.

    Fairbanks resumes push to radicalize schools with LGBT, anti-Christian courses

    Wouldn't it make sense that if parents objected to the pornography in the proposed Fairbanks North Star Borough School District curriculum that...

    News tips