After a week, more questions, few answers in St. Cloud mall attack

EMT workers move an empty stretcher.
EMT workers move an empty stretcher near an entrance to Macy's at Crossroads Center Saturday in St. Cloud.
Dave Schwarz | St. Cloud Times

It's been almost a week since authorities say Dahir Adan slashed his way through a Saturday night crowd at the Crossroads Center mall in St. Cloud.

Ten people were injured. Adan was shot and killed.

Dahir Adan's Facebook profile photo
Dahir Adan's Facebook profile photo

Six days later, it's still unclear what led him to that moment. His friends say it doesn't fit with the Adan they knew.

"He was a good person, he was a nice person," said Mubarak Ibrahim, who went to junior high, high school and college with Adan. "He's one of those people that, when you go up to [him], you don't expect anything negative to come your way."

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Investigators haven't released substantial details about the incident since the morning after it happened. And in the void of official information, rumors about what sparked the attacks are spreading, cementing distrust between some longtime residents and more recent immigrants.

At a time when community leaders say they need dialogue more than ever, almost no one is talking.

What investigators have said is that around 8:15 p.m. on Saturday, Dahir Adan, 20, stabbed and wounded 10 people at the Crossroads Center mall, wielding a knife. None of the injuries were life-threatening, and all the victims who were hospitalized were released by the next day.

Officials described a chaotic scene, from Sears to Macy's, as Adan jabbed at customers and workers in stores, thoroughfares and near one of the mall's exits.

Injuries reported at a St. Cloud shopping mall.
People stand near the entrance on the north side of the Crossroads Center mall as officials investigate Saturday's stabbing.
St. Cloud Times via AP

Police said Adan was dressed in a security guard uniform during the attack. A security company where he worked part-time says he resigned in June and handed over his uniform. A spokesperson for the mall's owner said he never worked there — or for the company that provides its security.

It was in the mall's Macy's store that Adan faced off-duty Avon, Minn., police officer Jason Falconer.

Jason Falconer
Jason Falconer
Avon Police Department/St Cloud Times via AP

Law enforcement officials said surveillance cameras captured the melee. St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis described footage that he said showed Adan lunging at Falconer with a knife — and Falconer shooting him multiple times. No footage of the incident has been released.

Kleis spoke at a community meeting Wednesday. He said he's spoken to all 10 of the people who were wounded Saturday. Few have talked publicly. They want privacy, Kleis said.

Some workers who witnessed the scene said Crossroads Center management told them not to talk to media. A spokesperson referred all questions about the incident to St. Cloud police.

Tuesday afternoon, the FBI announced that its Joint Terrorism Task Force would be taking the lead on the investigation, although law enforcement officials have not said whether they believe the stabbings were inspired by a terrorist group.

"We are currently investigating this as a potential act of terrorism," FBI Special Agent in Charge Rick Thornton had said not long after the attack. "And I do say 'potential.' There's a lot we don't know. We do not at this point in time know whether the subject was in contact with, had connections with, was inspired by a foreign terrorist organization."

Before the FBI officially took over the investigation, the terrorist group ISIS spoke up. The Islamic State's media arm claimed on Sunday that Adan had been acting as a "soldier of the Islamic State," according to the Associated Press and NPR. The group has encouraged so-called "lone wolf" attacks in the past. But ISIS has also claimed credit for attacks that aren't believed to have been planned or approved by Islamic State leadership.

Adan's family, in a statement through their attorney early this week, asked the community not to "rush to judgment or conclusions."

Minnesota Mall Stabbings
Abdulwahid Osman, the lawyer for Dahir Adan's family, speaks during a news conference at St. Cloud City Hall Monday.
Leila Navidi | Star Tribune via AP

They expressed sympathy to the victims and said they're cooperating with the investigation.

"Our family loves St. Cloud and this State and we are [an] integral part of the fabric of this society," the statement said. "Therefore, we urge citizens of St. Cloud and of this State to stay united and let the law enforcement agencies gather the facts and do their job.".

The family's attorney, Abdulwahid Osman, has not returned calls to MPR since the statement was released Monday. His voicemail box is full.

Nearly a dozen neighbors at Adan's apartment complex declined to speak with reporters. Some cited the almost immediate link to terrorism in early reports on the incident.

The friends who would talk openly about him said they didn't believe Adan, who was Muslim, had extremist views.

To his friends and classmates, Dahir Adan was a quiet, studious kid. They remember him playing soccer and basketball.

Mubarak Ibrahim met Adan in the seventh grade at South Junior High in St. Cloud. They'd hang out at the South Side Boys and Girls Club after school. Ibrahim remembers Adan using his height and weight to his advantage on the basketball court. "He was fun," Ibrahim said. "He was a good basketball player — he was a really good basketball player."

Ibrahim was also a classmate of Adan's at Apollo High School and St. Cloud State University, where he was last enrolled this spring as a sophomore pursuing a major in information systems. They played a game of pick-up basketball a few weeks before the mall attack.

"It's just shocking, you know? And, I just want to say, we don't know his intentions. We don't know what could've caused it, what could've aggravated it," Ibrahim said. "It could've been personal, It could've been any number of things. We shouldn't jump to conclusions is all I'm saying."

Rahmo Omar saw Adan as a big brother. He was good friends with her own brother. She knows his sisters. "He was always that really shy, nice kid. You would never associate what happened with him," she said. "Sweetest guy you know. Always stood up for people. I've never seen him do anything wrong, in general. He was a straight-A student, very smart. He was very kind. So hearing this, it's very crazy."

That dissonance was common among Adan's friends who spoke to MPR News, many of whom didn't want to be named. They said he was quiet, kind and never one for confrontation.

And those friends said they hadn't noticed any recent changes in him that might have tipped them off that something was wrong.

And now, they're worried. So are community leaders.

In public meetings, at rallies and press conferences, Somali-American leaders have stressed that this was the act of an individual, not of a community. But some fear that this one incident, and the taint of terrorism that was linked to St. Cloud's Somali-American community by the ISIS statement, could undo years of community-building.

Mall-St Cloud Minnesota
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Center for American-Islamic Relations Minnesota, joins members of St. Cloud's Somali-American community after the violence at Crossroads Center.
Jason Wachter | St. Cloud Times via AP

"There have been people for 30 years that have been working to build relationships across cultures and religion and all issues for this town," said Haji Yussuf, a director of #UniteCloud, an organization that launched almost two years ago with the aim of easing racial tensions in the region.

"So after this one incident, that's a little bit shattered. It's like a glass that is shattered. It's not broken," Yussuf said. "We're trying to see where we can rescue and fix that."

The population of Stearns County has long been mostly white and mostly Catholic. Even before Saturday's stabbing, tensions between people whose families have been there for generations — many of them grandchildren and great-grandchildren of German immigrants — and the relatively new Somali refugee population have heightened.

Last year, Somali-American students walked out of a St. Cloud high school in protest, after they complained that administrators had ignored bullying. Fellow students, they said, had repeatedly called them "terrorists."

In some ways, people who have lived in the St. Cloud area for generations tend to keep among their own, said Natalie Ringsmuth, another director of #UniteCloud. That can make conversations between groups difficult.

"Choosing peace in this area means choosing to get to know your neighbors," Ringsmuth said. "What we're hoping is that we don't lose ground in that area now, and that instead it makes people more willing to do that."

MPR News reporter Martin Moylan contributed to this report.