Authorities late Monday identified the armed suspect who died in a shootout with police while he was on a raft on the Minnesota River north of Mankato over the weekend.
Austin D. Heights, 24, was fleeing police Saturday afternoon after he allegedly stole snacks and beverages from a Mankato gas station while carrying a gun, according to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).
Heights was shot multiple times by law enforcement from the shore, the BCA said.
A close friend of the family said Tuesday that Heights was mentally ill and had a fear of police.
A clerk at the BP Expressway, on Hwy. 169 just south of the well-known Happy Chef restaurant, reported to law enforcement that Heights came in and stole items, according to Mankato police.
The clerk said Heights took beef jerky and something to drink while carrying a long gun in a white garbage bag, according to emergency dispatch audio.
Heights took to a raft on the river, where a witness told authorities the suspect also had a sawed-off shotgun with him, the dispatch audio continued.
About two hours after the reported theft, one officer was heard on the audio saying “shots fired,” quickly followed by, “He shot and fired twice at me. I fired back twice. He’s still floating.”
Authorities recovered Heights from the river and his body was taken to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office for positive identification and further investigation.
The BCA has not disclosed the identity of the officer who fired the fatal shots or the officer’s agency.
Agencies assisting in the incident included the Mankato, North Mankato and St. Peter police departments; sheriff’s offices from Blue Earth, Nicollet and Le Sueur counties; and the State Patrol, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota River Valley Tactical Response Team.
Heights was living in Mankato and collecting disability payments because he was “severely schizophrenic and too mentally ill to work,” said Ruth Novak, who dated Heights’ father, Kevin Carlson, for several years. They parted in recent weeks but remained close, she said.
Novak said she and Carlson have learned few details about the shooting but described Heights as “terrified all the time and afraid of the police. He was not really connected with reality.”
She said that she and Heights’ father “have been asking how in the world did he get guns; who would give him guns? It was so obvious that he was not well.”
“Both of us tried to get him to move in with us. We kept telling social workers that he wasn’t even able to get groceries without help,” she said.
Despite his mental health problems, Novak said, “Austin was just a sweetheart, a very caring and gentle person. He liked getting out and being with the family. We’d go camping and things.”