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Members of Seward neighborhood’s East African community listened to Minneapolis police officers during a meeting at Seward Towers on Monday night, less than a week after three men were shot to death. Police officials said they could not release details of the crime due to the ongoing investigation.

Jennifer Simonson, Star Tribune

After killings, a push for answers

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW and MATT McKINNEY
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • January 11, 2010 - 11:31 PM

In the sting of subzero temperatures, hundreds of residents of the city's East African community gathered along Franklin Avenue last week to remember three immigrants who died in a brutal slaying at a south Minneapolis grocery store.

On Monday night, they came together again, 400 strong, but this time in the warmth of a high-rise housing complex in the heart of the Seward neighborhood to honor the victims in a moment of silence and get answers from police about the investigation that led to the arrest of two 17-year-old suspects.

Earlier Monday, prosecutors received an extension in the case and will have until 1:30 p.m. Wednesday to file charges against the teens, both of whom are believed to be Somali. Police have said little about the circumstances of the arrests, which took place over the weekend, and have not released a motive for the shootings. They have said, however, that they expect charges to be filed this week.

Killed in the shootings, which took place Jan. 6 at the Seward Market and Halal Meats at E. Franklin and 25th Avenues S., were store employee Abdifatah Warfa, 28, his cousin, Mohamed Warfa, 30, who had brought Abdifatah some tea, and Anwar Mohammed, 31, a store customer. The Warfas were Somali. Mohammed was Oromo.

So many people arrived at Monday night's meeting that an overflow crowd was forced to wait in the lobby. Residents came armed with questions about the investigation, the suspects' motives and ways to protect themselves. Their questions were asked and answers given in three languages -- English, Somali and Oromo.

"Who will protect us?" said an elderly East African woman. She said she hid in her apartment after learning of the slayings. "Now everybody's scared."

Minneapolis Police Capt. Amelia Huffman, head of the criminal investigation division, told the crowd she could not release details of the crime while the investigation is underway.

"Please have patience," Huffman said.

Huffman described the killings as "very brazen" and said "about a dozen investigators" have "worked around the clock" on the case with the help of other officers who have processed evidence. The store's recently updated surveillance cameras provided crisp pictures of the crime.

She said police were able to make the arrests over the weekend after receiving "a number of telephone calls" and tips from people in the Somali and Oromo communities.

After Huffman spoke, one man addressed her, saying he'd heard one of the suspects had robbed before and had been released from jail.

He wanted to know how the teen could be back on the streets. Huffman explained that juveniles, except in the most violent crimes, often don't go to jail or get imprisoned for a long time.

Abdi Mohamed, cousin of the Warfas, also spoke at the meeting, reading a statement: "We will not rest until all those responsible for the killings are brought to justice." He said the store will reopen Wednesday.

McKinney@startribune.com • 612-673-7329 richm@startribune.com • 612-673-4425

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