In year since mall attack, St. Cloud works to heal division

Published 11:46 pm Friday, September 15, 2017

By Kirsti Marohn, Minnesota Public Radio News

Sunday marks one year since a knife-wielding man went on a stabbing rampage at a shopping mall in St. Cloud, leaving 10 people wounded and the community shaken.

At around 8:15 p.m. Sept. 17, 2016, Dahir Ahmed Adan walked into Crossroads Center dressed in a security guard’s uniform. He stabbed 10 people before he was shot to death by Jason Falconer, an off-duty police officer, in a Macy’s department store.

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The 20-year-old Adan was Somali American, and many worried that the attack would exacerbate tensions in the St. Cloud community, which has a large Somali population.

Shortly after the attack, the FBI raised more fears when it announced it was investigating the incident as a potential act of terrorism. A news agency run by ISIS claimed Adan was acting as a soldier of the Islamic State.

The FBI won’t comment on active cases. But in an interview this week, St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson said he hasn’t seen any signs that terror groups are actively recruiting young people in the community.

“ISIS takes credit for anything that happens anywhere on the planet,” Anderson said. “There was no credible evidence linking this incident to ISIS or any other radical terrorist organization, so I took that one with a grain of salt.”

People stand near the north entrance of Crossroads Center mall between Macy’s and Target as officials investigate what turned out to be a knife attack. – St. Cloud Times via AP 2016 via MPR News

Not much has changed at the Crossroads mall, where shoppers returned as soon as it reopened after the attack. Anderson said people might notice a few more police around.

“You see our uniformed officers that maybe would have had a cup of coffee at a Kwik Trip, and now they’ll go and take a stroll through the mall, and that’s perfectly fine with me,” he said. “We certainly don’t want people to feel like they’re being occupied, but we want them to know we’re there for them.”

But Anderson said there’s only so much a community can do to plan and prepare for an attack like the one that happened a year ago.

“We do our best to mitigate those things through intelligence sharing and information sharing,” he said. “But history has shown us unfortunately if somebody wants to carry out one of these attacks, they’re going to be able to do it, because none of is omniscient.”

Despite fears of a backlash, Anderson said he has seen no spike in threats or other incidents targeting Somalis in the year following the attack.

Mayor Dave Kleis said the community division many feared never materialized.

“Until you have a tragic situation happen, you don’t really know how a community will react,” Kleis said. “Clearly, the work we had done for years of community building when that attack took place was evident in the fact that people came together and united as a community.”

However, Natalie Ringsmuth, founder of a community organization called #UniteCloud, said some people use the mall attack as a reason to fear their Muslim neighbors.

“There were people in the Muslim community in this area that were yelled at before the stabbing and they get yelled at still after the stabbing,” Ringsmuth said. “There are people that have threats sent to their house because they are a member of our community that are Somali and Muslim. It happened before the stabbing and it happens after the stabbing.”

Many of the details of investigations into incidents like this one either aren’t available or aren’t made public, Ringsmuth said.

“So then people in our community fill in the gaps with rumors or just with whatever they think might have happened,” she said. “And it’s those rumors and gaps that really tear our community apart.”

Kleis said the city has stepped up efforts to encourage residents get to know their neighbors.

“When you know somebody, it breaks down some of the stereotypes or the apprehension,” Kleis said. “You realize that people have similar aspirations, similar commitment to family, similar desires to succeed.”

He is trying to lead by example with something he calls “Dinner with Strangers,” where he invites a group of people he doesn’t know to his house for some chili and conversation.

“The more we get to know each other the more we get to know your neighbors the more you have communication,”Kleis said, “the more trust you have and the more trust you have, the more prosperous your community will be, and the more resilient it will be in times of tragedy.”