An Anchor Point woman and her teenage daughter escaped in their stocking feet on a cold and snowy night last week after the woman said her husband shot up their Old Sterling Highway cabin with a handgun. Alaska State Troopers and a Homer Police officer rescued the woman and girl walking along the Old Sterling Highway about 11:30 p.m. Feb. 12 after the woman called troopers.
Troopers arrested Ilya Gherman, 53, on Wednesday at the Anchor Point Trooper Post. Sgt. Jeremy Stone, head of the Anchor Point Post, E Detachment, had called Gherman on Wednesday and Gherman agreed to come to the post. Gherman did not resist, Stone said.
“That was our goal, to hopefully have him a little more rational when we contacted him and to get him safely,” Stone said.
Gherman was arraigned last Thursday on two counts of kidnapping, two counts of third-degree assault with a firearm, and second-degree misconduct involving a weapon, all domestic violence related and all felonies. He is being held at Wildwood Pretrial Facility in Kenai. Gherman has a preliminary hearing at 3:30 p.m. Friday at the Homer Courthouse.
According to a criminal complaint by Stone, the woman told troopers her husband was mentally ill and had been recently released from Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage.
Gherman is a heavy alcohol user and also used methamphetamines, the woman told Stone.
On the night of Feb. 12, Gherman drank a fifth of hard liquor and began ranting. He screamed at his wife, tried to contact the CIA by phone and accused her of being a Russian spy, Stone said the woman told him. Gherman grabbed a handgun and shot about eight rounds into the floor and wall of the small cabin. The girl curled up on her bed and was scared her father was going to shoot her mother, Stone wrote. The girl said this kind of behavior had been going on for some time.
Gherman sat in a chair in the cabin and said he would shoot his wife and daughter if they tried to leave, the woman told Stone. He had an AK-47 semiautomatic rifle on the table next to him, and also said he would shoot anyone who came through the door, the woman told troopers. The woman and daughter escaped after Gherman passed out, leaving without any shoes on, the woman said.
In the interview with Stone, Gherman said he shot into the roof with the AK-47 and said he did so to get information from his wife, Stone wrote. When Stone asked Gherman if he had threatened to shoot the women if they tried to leave, Stone said Gherman responded, “What would you do if your wife was a spy?”
Stone said troopers found bullet holes in the cabin and it appeared Gherman shot rounds using a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun and possibly one round from a semi-automatic AK-47 rifle, a Russian designed assault rifle also known as a Kalashnikov rifle.
Because of patient privacy, API cannot speak specifically about the Gherman case, but can speak in general about procedures in releasing patients, said Sarana Schell, a spokesperson for API and the Division of Behavioral Health, Department of Health and Social Services.
API is concerned about the safety of patients released, she said, and makes every effort in post-discharge treatment to optimize the chance of recovery.
“Where the potential for violence and possible presence of weapons are identified as concerns in the admission process, API staff take that into account in the treatment and discharge process, and take protective preventive steps,” Schell said.
Staff work with family, friends and local law enforcement to take items that can be used in violent acts, brief local law enforcement on safety issues, and talk with the family about follow-up treatment recommendations, she said.
Federal laws prevent some mentally ill people from purchasing guns. Licensed gun dealers run a background check on a person wanting to purchase firearms. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms 4473 form process does a check through the FBI.
If a person shows up on FBI records as having been adjudicated mentally defective or committed to a mental institution, the person will be denied purchase of firearms, said Cheryl Bishop, an ATF spokesperson with the Seattle office. There is no central federal gun data base, she said.
Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters said that because firearms aren’t registered, there is nothing troopers can do to determine if a mentally ill person owns firearms.
“He had every right to have firearms in his house,” Stone said of Gherman.
That’s one of the frustrations in dealing with mentally ill people who could be a danger to themselves or others, said Kathryn Carssow, adult and emergency services program director at The Center, Homer’s community mental health treatment facility.
While not speaking about the Gherman incident, Carssow said that a person can be admitted to API for 72 hours on an emergency basis, but cannot be committed longer without a judge’s order. Once a person is released, they can return home and potentially have access to guns.
For people who are suicidal, The Center can work with patients and family to voluntarily remove guns from a home, she said. The Center offers 24-hour crisis services by calling 235-7701 or visiting The Center 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday at 3948 Ben Walters Lane.
After hours, people needing help can call 911, the mental health clinician on call at South Peninsula Hospital at 235-0247, or visit the emergency room to see an on-call mental health clinician.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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