Police are investigating a shooting Wednesday that left three men dead after an apparent botched robbery at a corner grocery in Minneapolis.
It was the city's first triple homicide in nearly six years and the latest in a string of slayings among the city's Somali population.
Minneapolis Police Sgt. William Palmer said officers were called to Seward Market on Franklin Avenue just before 8 p.m. Wednesday on a report of robbery. On the way, the call was changed to a shooting.
"Right now it appears it's a robbery gone bad. Our homicide investigators will have to look into that and confirm that, but it's a likely scenario at this point," Palmer said.
Palmer said none of the victims was involved in committing the crime. Police would not release the names of the deceased or say whether they were store employees or customers.
Police did not release any information about possible suspects and said they didn't have anyone in custody.
A man who identified himself as a brother of two of the victims said Abdifatah and Mahad Warfa were both killed. The man said one of his brothers was working at the store, and the other had just dropped in about an hour before the shooting happened.
A woman at the scene, Shukri Farah, said she was buying some things at the market when she saw three men speaking Somali enter the store. According to local residents who translated, Farah said one of the workers suddenly grew shaky. He told her he had suspicions about the men and went to talk to them. Farah said she left the store and only later learned about the shooting.
The typically quiet stretch of Franklin Avenue was flooded Wednesday night with news vans. Throngs of worried neighbors, many of them Somali-Americans, clustered around the police tape searching for answers.
Customers who shopped at the market for sugar and halal meat gathered on sidewalks to trade bits of information. The store is located in an area that is home to many Somali immigrants, and sold meat prepared according to Islamic requirements.
The fatal robbery drew Mayor R.T. Rybak and Police Chief Tim Dolan to the scene. Abdirashid Abdi walked up to the mayor and urged him to make the case a priority because there were three shooting victims.
Rybak told Abdi that the city would do its best to solve the killing and asked him to go to the police if he found out any more information.
Dolan said there were other people in the store who survived the killing, and the market also carried security cameras.
The Twin Cities has seen an uptick in recent years in Somali-on-Somali killings, but mostly related to street gangs or retribution. Hindia Ali's brother, an Augsburg College student, was gunned down two years ago while working as a youth mentor. The triple slaying, she said, is another hit for her community.
"Nobody wants to hear someone who has a business and gets killed in their business," Ali said. "So this is a very sad night for the Somali community and something we don't even need right now."
Many customers said the market was clean and well-maintained, and the workers were friendly and always quick to help their patrons. Still, there have been signs of trouble at the Seward Market. The front door was repeatedly smashed and boarded up over the past few years.
The store is just one of several small East African businesses and independent merchants that have revived this stretch of Franklin Avenue. The Seward neighborhood is a diverse, middle-class area southeast of downtown known more for its food co-op than crime.
Just steps away from the news vans and the crowds, one man stood quietly holding a lit purple candle. John Wright lives just a few blocks away.
"I just wanted to, however small, express some gesture of support and prayer for peace and healing for the Somali community," Wright said. "It just seems like one tragedy on top of another for them lately. They bring a lot of vibrant culture and diversity to our area, and they're a real asset to our community, and it's heartbreaking to see what they're going through right now."
Wright said he wishes he knew his Somali neighbors better so he could express his condolences with words. But for now, a lone candle and a prayer would have to do.
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