‘Into the Wild’ Hunter Shot and Killed by Alaska State Troopers

Into the WildGordon E. Samel, 52, whose discovery of Chris McCandless’ corpse 20 years ago led to the book and movie Into the Wild, has been shot and killed by Alaska State Troopers following a weekend pursuit through the Alaska city of Wasilla. Samel was part of a group of moose hunters that found McCandless’ corpse in an abandoned bus in 1992.

On Sunday, police approached Samel’s vehicle after a report about a possible drunken driver. Troopers said Samel drove off when troopers knocked on the side of his pickup and fled down the city’s main street, sometimes against traffic, and at times into residential areas. He was eventually blocked at an intersection.

When state troopers and city police approached on foot Samel backed the truck toward the officers. Both fired their handguns. Samel was declared dead at the scene.

A passenger in the truck sustained an injury to one arm, but it was not life threatening. He was released without being charged.

The Anchorage Daily News says that according to Samel’s family he was a talented mechanic and auto body repairmen, but that he struggled with bipolar disorder. Samel had two grown children, and his brother says when he was taking his bipolar medication was a “real asset to the family.”

Samel’s criminal history goes back to 1983. He had been arrested 19 times since 1983, and was still under court-ordered restrictions not to drink following a DUI arrest in September.

Samel’s mother told the newspaper that she did not understand why Samel, who played a small but important role in Into the Wild, was shot and killed by Alaska State Troopers rather than them using a Taser or shooting the car’s tires. She said she was sure he was just trying to get away, and that he would never have run over anybody.

Samel’s brother said Samel was proud of his involvement in Krakauer’s story. Krakauer received some insights from Samel when writing the book. Samel played a minor part in the story. McCandless’ journal reported that he had killed a moose, and he taken a photo of himself with the carcass. However, Samel advised Krakauer that it was not a moose at all, but a caribou.

Samel was on a moose hunt with three friends on September 6, 1992, when they came across the old Fairbanks city bus later made famous by Krakauer’s book. Samel reached through a bus window and shook the sleeping bag he could see inside, which he said definitely had something in it. When he looked in a window on the other side of the bus he saw a head sticking out of the bag. 24-year-old McCandless had died of starvation about three weeks earlier.

The bus from Into the Wild has become something of a destination for visitors, but its remoteness has caused problems for the nearby town of Healy, as unprepared hikers get into trouble and require rescue.

The Alaska State Troopers shooting of the Into the Wild hunter is under investigation to determine whether the use of deadly force was justified. The inquiry will be based on a reported from the Alaska Bureau of Investigation.

By Beth A. Balen

Alaska Dispatch

2 Responses to "‘Into the Wild’ Hunter Shot and Killed by Alaska State Troopers"

  1. Joe Beauvais   March 18, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    I agree with your camera comments but little else. I won’t even begin to try to explain what constitutes the use of deadly force but you should look it up on your own. While it is true that entry-level law-enforcement positions only require a high school diploma, most new recruits have more education and experience such as college and military. It is very difficult to get hired at the minimum age with only a high school education. Also I’m willing to bet that you have never been in a high stress, life or death situation and had seconds or less to make a decision that arm chair quarterbacks like you have unlimited time to pick apart.

  2. Bob McGurk   March 17, 2014 at 12:48 am

    This is another sad day when APD/Troopers go above and beyond their duty and kill another innocent citizen. It’s sad the day and age that we live in where someone with a high school education can become a law enforcement official, carry a gun and then use it improperly. These individuals in the justice department need to be required to have a camera on them, live, at all times like many other countries have began doing… This would create and environment where APD cannot abuse Alaska’s citizens like they are currently doing.


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