At 3 p.m. on Dec. 4, Sarah was unloading groceries from her SUV, when she noticed a man walk by her vehicle.
Sarah, who asked MPR News not to use her last name, thought the man was getting into the car parked in front of hers, but he came around and met her at the back.
"Before I could even open it he came at me yelling with a gun extended in his right hand towards my face, saying ‘give me the keys, give me the keys.’ But I couldn’t even process what was happening,” she said. “I think [that] aggravated him. He got angry really, really quickly. "
Sarah had to dig in her purse to find the keys and her wallet.
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"I don’t know I wasn’t finding it fast enough for him so he hit me on the back of the head with the gun and I just said, ‘I’m looking, I’m looking. Just don’t shoot me,’ and he’s getting really angry,” she recalled.
After handing over her things, Sarah watched the man get into the driver’s side of her vehicle and speed away. The woman dialed 911 so fast, it first connected to the Bluetooth in the SUV. Her three children were inside the house with a nanny, who saw the whole thing.
Minneapolis police spokesperson John Elder said carjackings have happened in the daylight hours in recent months. There were 391 carjackings in Minneapolis through mid-December, compared to 93 the year before. The city is dealing with nearly unprecedented numbers of homicides and shootings, Elder said.
The Minneapolis Police Department has faced major challenges with a wave of retirements or departures after the police killing of George Floyd in May. Floyd’s death drew huge protests and some unrest, including the burning of Minneapolis’ 3rd Precinct.
Carjackings have increased in a few smaller cities neighboring Minneapolis this year, including Golden Valley, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center, although the numbers remained in the single digits. St. Paul has seen a spike in robberies and auto thefts.
The Twin Cities metro area is not alone in seeing more violent auto thefts: Chicago and the Washington, D.C. area reported more carjackings in 2020 than years before.
To help combat the problem, Elder said multiple agencies across Hennepin County recently partnered to try to find carjacking suspects.
“We were out looking for cars with no license plates, out looking for cars with the wrong license plates,” the police spokesperson said.
Surveillance by the Minneapolis Police Department has led to 41 felony-level arrests. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has so far charged 10 people from the effort with a variety of offenses. One case against a 20-year-old St. Paul man accuses him of being responsible for a series of carjackings in Minneapolis.
Elder said law enforcement considers economic hardship from the pandemic and students being away from school as contributing factors to the overall uptick in violent crime in Minneapolis.
Sarah, who is a psychologist, said she suffered a traumatic event that has left her feeling a deep sense of grief. She believes systemic failures in society highlighted by the pandemic contributed to this crime.
"That something like this seemed like a good option … that is really, really sad," she said.
The vehicle was recovered, but no one has been arrested.
Sarah is too scared to drive alone. She feels she has lost a sense of security and hopes sharing her story will encourage others to be aware of their surroundings.