Officials investigate mall attack as possible act of terrorism

St. Cloud police update on mall attack

ST CLOUD, Minn. - An FBI official says investigators are viewing an attack at a St. Cloud mall in which a man stabbed several people as a possible act of terrorism.

Nine people were injured Saturday by the attacker who was killed inside the Macy's store by an off-duty Avon police officer. 

St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis identified that officer as Jason Falconer during a press conference Sunday. He praised Falconer saying, "He clearly prevented additional injuries and potentially loss of life."

St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson said the attacker, who was wearing a private security outfit and armed with a knife, reportedly made references to Allah during the attack and asked at least one person whether they were Muslim. But late Saturday night, Anderson pointedly declined to call the attacks an act of terrorism, saying the motive isn't yet known.

According to the Associated Press on Sunday, an Islamic State-run news agency claimed the suspect was a "soldier of the Islamic State," saying the attacker had heeded calls from the extremist group for attacks in countries that are part of a U.S.-led anti-IS coalition.

FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Rick Thornton said at a news conference Sunday that authorities are digging into the suspect's background to determine his possible motivation. He said they are viewing the attack as a "possible act of terrorism."

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The attack was reported about 8:15 p.m. and Anderson says the time between the first 911 call and when the suspect was killed was approximately five minutes.

Kleis says there were nine people who were hurt in the attack, not eight, as authorities previously reported. He says the ninth person took themselves to a hospital and was treated and released. Three of the victims remain hospitalized with injuries that aren't considered life-threatening.

KARE 11 reporter Heidi Wigdahl spoke with Shye Makarrall who hid inside a store. Makarral says she saw people walking around inside with blood on them.

Harley and Tama Exsted of Isle, who were in St. Cloud Saturday to watch their son play in a college golf tournament at Blackberry Ridge, were in the mall when the incident occurred.

"All of a sudden I heard pop pop pop," Harley said. "I thought someone tipped over a shelf. All of a sudden these people started running. I just saw everybody running our way."

"It was a pa-pow, and then we saw the people start to run, which didn't catch me at first," he said. "But when we heard the screaming, then we knew it was time to go."

The couple escaped unharmed and said they helped another woman who was running from the scene to her car.

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Worried relatives of shoppers gathered near the scene.

Anthony Bellow, 18, a Technical High School student who recently moved to St. Cloud from Columbus, Ohio, went to the mall to visit his brother Dominic, 21, who works at Target, and was told to leave.

Bellow said his brother, whose shift was about a half-hour from ending when the violence broke out, sent him a text that said there was a shooter in the mall.

"My brother and I have always been really close. I want to make sure he's OK and give him a hug," Anthony Bellow said.

Target employees huddled in the mens' clothing department, Bellow said his brother had communicated by text message. They later moved up to the registers, he said.

Their mother, who is still in Ohio, asked Dominic to text her a photo from inside the mall to show he's safe, and he did, Bellow said.

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Adonis Samuels, 42, St. Cloud, was also outside the mall where his wife Roxanne is a manager at Clinique at Macy's.

"She called me on the phone and told me she was hiding under the counter with a customer," Samuels said.

She later called and said she was safe in a secured area.

Samuels remained outside, watching for her. He said he'd seen her through the glass doors at one point so he knew she was safe.

Desi Spoden, 52, of Sauk Rapids and her husband were in the parking lot awaiting word from their 17-year-old daughter, Katy, who was inside the mall at Lady Foot Locker. They raced to the scene after hearing about the incident.

Spoden said her daughter's friend reached her to let know they were OK. "Her friend called to let us know they were OK; they are on lockdown," she said.

Shortly before 9 p.m., a St. Cloud police officer with an assault rifle could be seen near the west entrance of Macy’s. Other officers were searching shrubbery near the mall with flashlights, according to St. Cloud Times staffers on the scene.

Officers from St. Cloud, Waite Park, Cold Spring and the Minnesota State Patrol, as well as Gold Cross ambulance and St. Cloud Fire Department crews were on the scene.

Chief Anderson said that St. Cloud police will remain steadfast and in service of its citizens.

"St. Cloud is a very resilient community. St. Cloud is filled with hard-working, right-thinking, decent people -- and we're going to be stronger because of this," he said.

Gov. Dayton issued the following statement Sunday:

“I am appalled at the terrible attacks on innocent Minnesotans in St. Cloud last night. If true that they were motivated by religious bigotry, I condemn them even more strongly. There is no place in Minnesota for intolerance of all Americans’ constitutional right to worship according to their beliefs. I am deeply grateful to the heroic law enforcement officer, whose swift response prevented an even worse attack. And I extend my very best wishes to the victims for their swift and complete recoveries. I ask everyone in the St. Cloud area and throughout Minnesota to rise above this atrocity and act to make religious and racial tolerance one of the ways in which Minnesotans again lead our country. Tomorrow morning, I will travel to St. Cloud to offer my support to city officials and its citizens.”


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