Relatives say two teens decided to rob a store to get a car out of the impound lot. Charges say the robbery left three dead.
They entered the store shortly after 7:30 p.m. wearing ski masks and looking for money.
One talked tough to a couple of customers in a grocery aisle; the other pointed a gun at two men behind the front counter.
"This is a robbery!" he shouted.
Seconds later, three East African immigrants lay dead in the bloody mess of a robbery turned fatal.
Those details were spelled out publicly for the first time by prosecutors Thursday as they charged two 17-year-old boys with first-degree murder in the Jan. 6 shooting at Seward Market and Halal Meats at E. Franklin and 25th Avenues in Minneapolis.
The triple homicide -- coming just days after the city reported that 2009 had recorded one of the lowest murder rates in years -- shocked a neighborhood and galvanized the city's East African community into helping police find the killers.
The defendants, from Minneapolis, were identified as Mahdi Hassan Ali, the alleged gunman, and Ahmed Shire Ali. Each is scheduled to appear in court Friday at 1:30 p.m. The teenagers are friends and not related.
"It's a tragic, senseless shooting," said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who added that his office will seek to set bail at $3 million for each.
The criminal complaint released Thursday detailed the chaotic moments leading to the shooting.
Within seconds of shouting "This is a robbery," Mahdi Ali allegedly chased down and shot a store employee who tried to call for help, then pumped a second bullet into a customer whom he had shot moments earlier.
The complaint didn't say what led to the robbery.
Relatives of Ahmed Ali, however, told the Star Tribune that he told them that Mahdi Ali needed money to get a car out of the city impound lot. Police wouldn't comment about that scenario. Ahmed Ali's family said they were told the car had been towed days before.
Slain were store employee Abdifatah Warfa, 28, his cousin, Mohamed Warfa, 30, who had stopped to visit, and Anwar Mohammed, 31, a customer. The Warfas were Somali. Mohammed was Oromo.
Their deaths were captured by store video, which police won't release, in part, because of its graphic nature.
Police also spoke to several witnesses, including two who hid in a meat locker once they heard gunshots.
According to the complaint:
After Ahmed Ali and Mahdi Ali entered the store, Ahmed Ali walked to a back aisle and told two customers not to move. He asked one for their cell phone, but when the customer refused, he rifled through the other's pockets.
Up front, Mahdi Ali pointed a gun at Abdifatah Warfa and his cousin. He ordered them to step from behind the counter and hit the floor. He then demanded money.
Just then, Anwar Mohammed came in to buy a phone card. Mahdi Ali immediately shot him, then ran from the store with Mohamed Warfa in pursuit.
Mahdi Ali then turned and shot Mohamed Warfa.
Hearing the shots, Ahmed Ali ran past the fallen bodies and out the front door.
Mahdi Ali then ran back inside and chased down Abdifatah Warfa, who was frantically trying to make a phone call. He shot Warfa, then ran out, firing a second shot at the fallen Mohammed as he passed.
Terrified by the gunfire, the two customers confronted earlier by Ahmed Ali hid in a meat locker. One dialed 911.
Minutes later, police arrived to a chilling scene: Two bodies lay in a pool of blood in the store's entry. A third was inside.
A quick resolution
Immediately afterward, police said the slayings were the result of a botched robbery. A day later, however, Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan backed away from that, saying later that the store security video didn't include sound. Witness interviews later confirmed a botched robbery.
On Thursday, Dolan credited the East African community for its help in the case.
Working off a tip from the Somali community, police arrested Mahdi Ali less than 48 hours after the shootings. Later that day, Ahmed Ali's family turned him in after confronting him following an investigator's visit to their home.
"We're not looking for anyone else at this point," Minneapolis police Capt. Amelia Huffman, commander of the criminal investigation division, said Thursday. "These are the two guys in the store, and these are the two guys responsible."
Huffman said Mahdi Ali was known to police for some "low level" criminal behavior in the past. Ahmed Ali did not have a criminal record, she said, adding that he was described by people within the Somali community as "a pretty good kid prior to this."
Ahmed Ali's father told the Star Tribune through an interpreter that his son had always been "a very obedient kid who listens to us and respects us."
He said he didn't know Mahdi Ali, but had seen him with his son on several occasions. He said he believed the boys knew each other from their days at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis.
The father also said that his son has told him that he has asked himself "20 million times" since he has been jailed why Mahdi Ali shot and killed three people.
He said that his son told him that the only answer he got from Mahdi Ali was that, "They recognized me."