Oakdale mother held son in arms after shooting

Devin Aryal in a class photo
Devin Aryal, 9, was killed Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 while on his way home from daycare in Oakdale, Minn. His mother, Melissa Aryal, allowed MPR to make this photograph from a class photo at the Aryal home. He loved soccer and wanted to be astronaut.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Devin Aryal, 9, was riding home with his mother from day care when a man opened fire on their minivan, killing him, his mother said Tuesday.

In an interview from her home, Melissa Aryal said she was driving home when her arm went numb from a gunshot. She looked in the backseat and saw the back windshield was broken. Her son was slumped over and unconscious with a gunshot wound to his head. She drove into the Rainbow Foods parking lot and held him while waiting for help.

"I just wanted him to know he wasn't alone," Aryal said.

Oakdale police identified the suspect as Nhan Lap Tran, 34, who lived near where the shooting happened at Hadley Avenue North and Seventh Street North, a busy section of the city. MPR News typically does not name suspects until they are formally charged. Tran is being held in the Washington County jail in Stillwater awaiting formal charges, which are expected as early as Wednesday. Police said they did not have any significant previous record of him.

Related: More info in police press release

"Multiple rounds were fired at four different vehicles, and we can also tell you that the suspect had other ammunition with him when he was taken into custody," said Oakdale Police Chief Bill Sullivan, at a press conference at City Hall Tuesday afternoon.

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Police said Tran did not know his victims, which also included a 68-year-old woman who suffered non-life threatening injuries from multiple gunshots.

Mementos and trophies
A photo of Devin Aryal, 9, hangs with a collection of mementos and sports trophies in Aryal family home in Oakdale, Minn. Devin was killed Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 while on his way home from daycare in Oakdale.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

"It appears it was completely random," Sullivan said.

He said Tran was shooting at cars and that police were investigating whether a house had been hit.

"It is our understanding at this point in time that he was targeting the cars, just shooting at the vehicles randomly," Sullivan said.

Tran was arrested without incident and never threatened law enforcement officers, Sullivan said. Investigators interviewed Tran Monday night. Sullivan said that police are "comfortable' that Tran was not in unlawful possession of a firearm, but that investigators are still looking into what started the rampage.

Sullivan said it appears nothing obvious prompted the shooting but released few other details, saying the incident remains under investigation.

"The initial reaction is horror. It's the absolute last thing, and it's the nightmare situation that departments encounter with this type of active, random shooter," Oakdale Community Affairs Officer Michelle Stark told MPR's Morning Edition.

Oakdale Mayor Carmen Sarrack said Devin Aryal's family was in his thoughts and prayers.

Posing with Santa Claus
In this photo of an undated family memento, 9-year-old Devin Aryal is seen posing with Santa Claus. Aryal was shot and killed Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, while in a minivan on the way home from day care in Oakdale, Minn.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

"It's ironic that it happens in a city this size in Oakdale, Minn., when we have all the national things going on that we do," Sarrack said. "It's a sad commentary on our society as a whole."

• See map and police complaint below

Devin Aryal was a fourth grader at Oakdale Elementary, just 10 blocks from the shooting. His mother said he loved math and science, was looking forward to soccer season and wanted to be an astronaut someday.

"Some of the kids are taking it pretty rough," said Jennifer McNeil, a spokeswoman for North St. Paul-Maplewood School District.

Counselors were on hand for any children who needed to talk, she said.

School photo
This photo, taken from an undated class picture provided by Melissa Aryal, shows her son, 9-year-old Devin Aryal, who was shot and killed as he rode in a minivan on his way home from day care in Oakdale, Minn., on Monday, Feb. 11, 2013.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Neighbors describe a chilling scene as a man started shooting and made his way up the street.

Cheryl Russell, who lives across the street from the house where the suspect might have been living, said she was at home at the time and saw the suspect walk by.

"Out of the corner of my eye I noticed this person. I didn't notice anything peculiar, and then all of a sudden a few seconds later I started hearing a popping sound," Russell said, adding that she at first thought it was firecrackers.

Russell said her son could see better from where he was in the house and told her the man was shooting at cars. She said she got another look from the window.

"By that time he was walking up Seventh Street and I could see the flash coming out of the gun," she said.

Russell said she doesn't remember ever speaking with the suspect, but knew others who lived in the house. She said her family had often exchanged pleasantries with them during the summers.

"Nothing ever happens in this little neighborhood here, so it's real disconcerting," she said. "We could have been walking out at any minute. There's a lot of what-ifs."

Derek Lowen, another neighbor, said he also thought the shots were firecrackers at first. Then he heard more.

"That time I knew for sure it was a gun so I went out the front room and looked out our front window and saw the guy walking erratically in the street and immediately went and grabbed one of our own firearms for self-defense, but of course didn't need to use it because he was already done shooting," Lowen said.

Lowen said he thinks the suspect fired as many as 20 rounds from a large-caliber handgun. After shooting, the suspect turned around and walked backward several times, he said.

"It was like he was trying to make sure there were no witnesses that had seen him," Lowen said.

But the suspect didn't run away.

"He walked slowly. He was actually almost calm — it was kind of scary how calm he was," Lowen said.

A vigil in remembrance of Devin Aryal took place Tuesday evening at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Oakdale.

The map below shows the approximate area of the shootings, near Rainbow Foods, Hadley Avenue North and Seventh Street North, which are west of Interstate 694 in Oakdale.

This is a copy of the initial police complaint: