ST. CLOUD – In a city torn by violence, hundreds of people came together Tuesday night in a show of unity.
It’s been three days since 20-year-old Dahir Adan turned the Crossroads mall into a scene of bloodshed and terror. For the students who sat in class with him at St. Cloud State University, the terror and grief linger.
“In recent nights, there have been nights when I wake up crying,” third-year student Barwaaqo Dirir told a crowd of hundreds gathered on campus. She knew Adan. Or thought she did. “My heart is heavy with a desperate need to pray for everyone. There are too many hurting and broken people.”
Adan, dressed as a security guard and armed with a knife, slashed and stabbed his way through the Crossroads mall Saturday night, reportedly referring to Allah. He wounded 10 people before he was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer who happened to be in the mall.
The FBI on Tuesday took over the investigation into the attack that officials have called “a potential act of terrorism.”
It was an incomprehensible act, both for those who knew and loved Adan and for people who know and love St. Cloud. The rally, which students organized in the space of a day, brought together students, residents, and university and city leaders, all repeating the message: This is not who we are.
“Remember, we write our story, not others,” said Police Chief William Blair Anderson.
The university is working to reassure shaken students, offering counseling or security escorts to those fearful of another attack and those fearful of retaliation because they look like the attacker. In the aftermath of the Crossroads attack, however, university security has reported no disturbances or incidents.
“Are we strong? Are we united?” St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis asked the cheering crowd. “I have been so proud of the outpouring of support from this community.”
Graduate student Sam Conway drew cheers as well when he noted that for too long, the city has referred “to the ‘Somali community’ on one hand and ‘St. Cloud’ on the other, as if these were two separate things.”
“For 16 years of this young man’s life … he was raised by this community. My community,” said Conway, a representative of the Graduate Clinical Counseling Association. “As a community, I and we need to take responsibility.”
The community is still struggling to understand what happened last Saturday. At a news conference Monday, Anderson said investigators have yet to find evidence that Adan was radicalized or communicated with a terrorist group or acted with others.
While officials said the FBI taking charge of the investigation was “customary” and not necessarily a sign of evidence linking the mall attack and foreign terrorism, not everyone agrees.
“ISIL claimed credit relatively quickly; I’d be surprised if either [Adan] didn’t reach out to ISIL supporters or at the very least, know some of the previous travelers,” said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the George Washington University Program on Extremism.
Meanwhile, Adan’s body has been released to his family by the Ramsey County medical examiner.
They will make funeral arrangements as soon as possible, said their attorney, Abdulwahid Osman.
“They’re mourning, they’re devastated, they’re having a hard time comprehending how their son died,” Osman said.
At the rally, friends of Adan continued to express shock that the studious friend they knew, who loved his homeland of Somalia, but was into American politics and talked of running for City Council or state Legislature, would commit such an act.
Adna Abdi, a recent St. Cloud State graduate who is friends with Adan’s sister, said she knew him well. He was smart, she said, with a 4.0 GPA while he was in school.
“I don’t believe he was radicalized,” she said. “He would make remarks that were anti-ISIS. He was not even a religious person. He was more focused on school and sports.”
St. Cloud State student Mohamed Wahab said he knew Adan through mutual friends. “We hit it off,” he said of first meeting Adan. “He was quiet, he worked a lot and kept to himself.”
A restaurant owner in southern Minnesota responded to the St. Cloud mall attacks by adding the words “Muslims Get Out” to a sign in front of his Treats Family Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor in Lonsdale.
Dan Ruedinger said he put up the message soon after the knife attack in St. Cloud because he’s “had enough” and is “standing up” to all the violence that extremists have inspired around the world.
On Tuesday, he sat down in his shop with Jaylani Hussein, executive director for the Minnesota Chapter of the Council On American-Islamic Relations, and a retired pastor from Faribault, who drove to the Lonsdale shop to talk about the sign and invite the Ruedingers to meet with Muslim community members at the Islamic Center of Faribault.
Unfortunately they didn’t agree, Hussein said after the meeting. But it was the start of a conversation and there’s hope that it will continue, he said.
“It’s all about dialogue,” Hussein said.
Ruedinger said he didn’t mean to offend anyone with his sign. “Our problem isn’t with the entire Muslim population,” he said after meeting with Hussein. “It’s with the extremists and the nut jobs.”
Joe Reyes posted a photo of the sign to the Lonsdale Happenings Facebook group midday Monday, and it quickly gained a flurry of comments.
“I do not like seeing our town in this negative image of intolerance,” Reyes said Tuesday. “I love this town. This business does not represent our town.” Lonsdale, 40 miles south of Minneapolis, has about 4,000 residents.
Mayor Tim Rud said Tuesday, “I do not condone the message of the sign, and it certainly does not reflect the views of myself, the City Council, city staff or the many community residents that I know.”
The mayor added that he respects “the business owner’s right to free speech as well as all residents.’ ”
Still, Ruedinger claims response from the public to his sign has been overwhelmingly positive.
“My business actually doubled last night,” he said. “One guy came in and said, ‘I’ve never been here, and I will be back.’ ”
Staff writers Paul Walsh, Shari Gross and Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.