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'This is what St. Cloud looks like': Students rally for unity after mall stabbing

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Unity rally at St. Cloud State University
Najah Ibrahim, Ahmed Kewen, Courtney Kujala and Mathilda Young raise their hands during a unity rally at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud Tuesday. Saturday's attack at Crossroads Center Mall is testing city and community leaders' efforts to improve longstanding racial tensions in the city.
Renee Jones Schneider | Star Tribune via AP

Mubarak Ibrahim went to junior high, high school and a few years of college with Dahir Adan.  

"He was just like everyone else, I guess. We played basketball together, we went to school together, we hung out at the South Side Boys and Girls Club almost every day after school," he said.

So when he heard the news Sunday that Adan had been identified as the man who had attacked 10 people with a knife at the Crossroads Center Mall in St. Cloud, and then was shot to death, Ibrahim was shocked.

Banner at a St. Cloud State University unity rally
A woman signs a banner to be carried at Tuesday's rally on St. Cloud State's campus.
Renee Jones Schneider | Star Tribune via AP

"Many of us were just thinking, 'No way, no way,'" he said. "I've known this guy for how long? [I've never] seen him do anything out of the ordinary. He was one of the people that you didn't hear, 'Dahir did this-and-that.' You don't hear about him doing negative things. And someone like that is all of the sudden involved in something like this? I mean, it's crazy to hear about."

Ibrahim is still looking for answers. As FBI investigators continue to piece together the details of Saturday's stabbing, he joined about 200 other people — many of his classmates, university staffers and St. Cloud residents — to find solace in a rally for unity and understanding on the campus of St. Cloud State University Tuesday.

Student Barwaaqo Dirir asked for prayers for the victims, and offered thanks that no more people were hurt.

Halima Aden, Jayse Waisanen and Danyelle Hoff
Halima Aden, left, holds baby Jayse Waisanen's hand as his mother, Daynelle Hoff, holds him during Tuesday's rally.
Renee Jones Schneider | Star Tribune via AP

"St. Cloud isn't a perfect city and it certainly isn't made up of perfect people," she told the crowd. "It isn't the best or the worst place to raise a family, but it's home. It's our home. And the people of this town are our family regardless of race, religion or background. 

"I challenge you to see the beauty that's here. Speak life into your city and people. I challenge you to pray and love."

First, there were speakers, including police Chief Blair Anderson, Mayor Dave Kleis, interim university president Ashish Vaidya and a campus security officer, Lt. Zack Rieger, who said there haven't been any incidents of retaliation on campus in response to Saturday's attacks.

Travis Pinney, Najah Ibrahim and Ahmed Kewen
Travis Pinney, Najah Ibrahim and Ahmed Kewen chanted, "This is what St. Cloud looks like," during a march after Tuesday's unity rally.
Renee Jones Schneider | Star Tribune via AP

"I am very confident that the majority of our students understand that one person does not represent an entire community," Rieger told the crowd, "and I think that most of the students will agree with that."

Still, he told students to call campus security if they feel unsafe. 

After the speakers, Tuesday's rally turned into a march, winding its way through campus.

As two students led chants, they urged the crowd to a hug.

Najah Ibrahim hugs Nicole Grant
Najah Ibrahim hugs Nicole Grant after encouraging people to hug each other at the end of a unity rally on the St. Cloud State University campus Tuesday.
Renee Jones Schneider | Star Tribune via AP

  "You have to start being part of what you want, at some point," said Travis Pinney, a paraprofessional at a St. Cloud elementary school who found himself hugging strangers at the rally. 

"And this is it. This is our starting point."

The FBI announced Tuesday that its Joint Terrorism Task Force is leading the investigation into Saturday's stabbings and Adan's death. It has not offered a timeline for the investigation.