Teenager arrested in triple slaying

  • Updated: January 10, 2010 - 10:38 AM

Minneapolis police still seek others in a case that shook the East African community.

Minneapolis police on Saturday arrested a 17-year-old whom they described as a primary suspect in Wednesday's brutal triple slaying at a market in the city's Seward neighborhood.

Investigators wouldn't release the suspect's identity or the circumstances of his arrest because of his age, but said they remain on the hunt for others considered potential suspects.

Sgt. William Palmer, a police spokesman, declined to say how many others were being sought, calling the arrest "a good break for us, but it's not the end of the investigation."

Word of the arrest, less than 24 hours after the victims were buried side by side after a highly emotional funeral attended by hundreds, brought some relief to the East African community in Minneapolis, whose members were credited by Palmer with providing crucial help to the police search.

The arrest was "good news and will help our families a great deal," said Abdi Mohamed, a cousin of two of the victims, Abdifatah and Mohamed Warfa. "It's not as if this will bring them back, but it gives us hope that justice will be done. It makes me very happy."

Palmer said the teenage suspect was arrested overnight in Minneapolis and is being held in the Hennepin County Juvenile Center.

According to Capt. Amelia Huffman, head of the criminal investigation division, the search for possible other suspects will continue.

"We're all looking forward to the apprehension of any other suspects," Mohamed said.

The three victims were shot to death about 7:45 p.m. Wednesday in a horrific attack at Seward Market and Halal Meats at E. Franklin Avenue and 25th Avenue S.

Abdifatah Warfa had been working the store's front counter that night and was visiting with his cousin, Mohamed Warfa, who had stopped to bring him some Somali tea. The third victim, Anwar Mohammed, apparently was shot after he walked into the store to buy groceries and a calling card to phone his new wife in Ethiopia.

Mohammed's elder brother, Fethi, called the arrest "a good signal to our entire family. No one has a clue who that guy is, but the next step is justice. He needs to be punished, as an adult, even though he is underage."

Members of the community have no idea who the suspect is, but "there is a deeply held, widespread feeling that he's a Somali," said Omar Jamal, a local Somali advocate. "The arrest shows criminals there is no place to hide in the community. It's a good start."

Hussein Samatar, executive director of the African Development Center, agreed. "This is good news -- amazing news," he said. "This is a relief for all of us."

Told how young the suspect is, Samatar added, "Goodness, that is not good news at all."

Arrest 'brings some relief'

Amy Steege, a Seward resident and mother of two young girls who was walking her dog near the shuttered market Saturday afternoon, said the arrest helped restore her feeling that the neighborhood is safe.

"It's very sad it was a 17-year-old boy," she said. "I don't think he knew what he was doing."

Other neighbors are relieved, said neighborhood activist Katya Pilling. "It's shaken people up because it was a real assault on the community," she said. "The news helps tremendously because there was real fear that these people were still out there. ... This definitely brings some relief."

Palmer praised the cooperation investigators have received from the East African community. "There have been times when we have not had the best relations with that community," he said. "This could be a tragedy where something good could come from this."

Jamal said community leaders "have been encouraging people to come forward and speak to the police. This is a good example of how when we work together with [police], it makes for a very fruitful relationship."

Samatar said members of the local Somali community "always try to work with the police, even when there is a language barrier or a lack of understanding of police procedures. The community's always willing and able to help."

Community activist Abdirizak Bihi stopped at the neighborhood Starbucks, a gathering spot for neighborhood Somalis, shortly before 3 p.m. Saturday to deliver news of the arrest. "I haven't shared such good news publicly with people in a long, long time," he said.

About 20 Somali men, in the midst of discussing the shooting deaths, smiled, shook hands and expressed gratitude.

"Bihi told us the good news about one of the criminals," said Osman Belel, a student at Metropolitan State University. "Even though the dead people are not coming back alive, it is great news to me, for the families and for the community."

A few doors away from the Seward Market, Abdi Olani was behind the counter of the Addis Market, as he was the night of the killings. He was pleased to learn of Saturday's arrest and recalled waiting on Anwar Mohammed, who was wiring money to his wife in Ethiopia a few minutes before heading to the Seward Market.

"I hear the shooting -- like, duff, duff," Olani said. "I had no idea what was going on."

bobvon@startribune.com • 612-673-7184 richm@startribune.com • 612-673-4425 Staff writers David Chanen and Abby Simons contributed to this report.

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