Gunman injures one at Anchorage flag football game

On-field dispute leads to more than 50 shots fired; suspects at-large

Posted: Tuesday, July 11, 2006

ANCHORAGE - Rough play in a flag football game led to a shooting that left a man seriously injured and players and spectators scrambling for exits at the Anchorage Football Stadium.

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Daniel L. Leituala, 21, was shot Sunday night in the shoulder and below his left eye, according to a witness. Police confirmed the injuries and said Leituala was in serious but guarded condition at a hospital.

Police Chief Walt Monegan on Monday said at least three calibers of shell casings were recovered. Police suspect there were multiple shooters.

Citing their investigation, police would not release how many casings they had recovered or what size guns were involved.

Witnesses said they thought at least 50 shots were fired, so many and so fast that it sounded like an automatic weapon was involved. One witness said a shooter had an "Uzi-style" weapon.

Monegan said that was probably not the case. No registered automatic weapons have been reported stolen and there are numerous knockoffs that are semiautomatic, he said.

The Anchorage Football Field is a stadium with artificial turf enclosed by a chain link fence and bordered by open-air bleacher seats.

Police said the gunplay did not appear to be related to gangs or race. The pickup flag football game had black and Polynesian players on both sides with individuals ranging from about 16 to the mid-20s.

"They must have known each other to some degree, to set up these teams," Monegan said.

Assistant Chief Ross Plummer said play late in the game became rough.

"An incident occurred during one of the plays in which some individuals started an argument," he said. "It turned into a disturbance. At some point, somebody pulled out a gun and began firing into the crowd."

Police said Leituala played in the game but apparently was not involved in the scuffle.

He may have been caught in a crossfire or was simply "in the wrong place at the wrong time," Plummer said.

No other people have sought treatment for wounds.

Monegan said the environment has changed for settling disputes.

"Years ago if we got into a beef during a game, we would probably shove each other around or something like that," he said. "Unfortunately, it appears now people are reaching for guns. That truly is the tragedy in this particular situation."

Police said they called the press conference on Monday to dispel early, inaccurate reports of the shooting. One witness said a man had walked up to the field and started shooting. That was not the case, Monegan said. The weapons came from the participants.

"I suspect it's probably in the bags or in cars or maybe even on people," Monegan said.

Zach Ziemer, 18, told the Anchorage Daily News he was standing on top of the grandstand watching the game when he heard one shot, followed by three, then dozens more.

After the first shot, players dropped to the turf, then scattered for cover in all directions, Ziemer said.

Dozens of people were at the game. Some players or spectators climbed the chain link fence instead of running through the exits.

Two adult baseball league games at nearby Kosinski Fields and the championship game of an American Legion Baseball tournament at Mulcahy Stadium were in progress when the shots were fired.

Mayor Mark Begich said the shooting was disappointing considering steps taken after other recent shootings and that quelling the violence will depend in part on making sure there are consequences for shooters.

"If you let it go on, and we don't put these people behind bars, then it just perpetuates the problem of people feeling there's no consequences," Begich said.

Prosecution will require witnesses cooperating with police, he said.

"When the community comes forward, it makes a difference," Begich said.

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