At the height of the riots following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, bystanders were frantically trying to save someone trapped in a burning pawnshop.
The Max It Pawn store at 2726 E. Lake St. was one of dozens of buildings leveled by the fires that blazed throughout Minneapolis during the riots in late May. But the discovery of a man’s body amid the rubble this week — nearly two months later — marks the second known death from the unrest.
People had been looting the pawnshop on May 28 before someone lit it on fire, according to federal charges. As smoke began billowing out of the building, a man called inside to see if anyone was still there, recalled Lucas Anderson, a film producer from Minneapolis whose friend was shooting footage of the scene.
“All of a sudden he starts yelling, ‘There’s somebody in there! There’s somebody in there! We’ve got to get them out of there!’ ” said Anderson, 27.
The windows were boarded up, so Anderson and several others tried in vain to pull down the plywood panels to clear the smoke and see inside. They shined flashlights inside the small open window and told the person to crawl toward them.
“I thought I heard them say, ‘We can’t find our way out. We don’t know where to go,’ ” Anderson said. “And then that’s when we pulled out the flashlight. And we said, ‘Try and follow the flashlight. See if you can open your eyes and look for the flashlight.’ ”
The group spent 15 or 20 minutes scrambling to help whoever was trapped inside, with little luck.
“Then eventually we stopped hearing the cries for help inside,” Anderson said.
When firefighters arrived, Anderson told them that someone was inside the building.
Fire Department spokesman Bryan Tyner said people in the area were shouting to firefighters that there may be someone inside the building. It is standard protocol to search for victims when buildings are on fire, he said, and crews entered the side door of the pawnshop and attempted to search it.
“The building was fully involved upon their arrival,” Tyner wrote in an e-mail. “Crews went in as far as they could but the fire conditions combined with the roof condition prevented crews from getting through the structure.”
Caleb Spike, 19, of Maple Grove had been observing the scene around Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue when he arrived at the burning pawnshop — several minutes before firefighters got there.
He observed people going in and out of a door on the back side of the building, despite thick smoke inside. As the fire spread and consumed several plywood panels, a woman standing beside him shook her head.
“She [said], ‘I don’t think that man came out. I just don’t think that man came out,’ ” Spike recalled.
Today a pile of rubble, mangled metal and other debris remain at the site where Max It Pawn stood. Crews on Wednesday were using skid steers to help clear the lot.
After receiving a tip, city, state and federal officials combed through the wreckage on Monday, where they discovered the body. The dead man’s identity and cause of death have not been released.
It was not the first time the pawnshop fire scene had been examined, said Ashlee Sherrill, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Sherrill said ATF and other government officials have examined more than 150 scenes looking for the origins and causes of the fires.
“ATF and our partners have returned to a number of these fire scenes based on evidence and information that continues to be developed through the investigative process,” Sherrill said.
Montez Terriel Lee, of Rochester, was charged last month with setting the fire at Max It Pawn. A federal complaint says a video shows Lee pouring liquid around the pawnshop before the fire.
Representatives for the building’s owner and Max It Pawn did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The other death during the rioting occurred at a different pawnshop, Cadillac Pawn, about a mile west on Lake Street. The victim in that incident, Calvin L. Horton Jr., was shot. The pawnshop owner accused of shooting him was arrested but released without charges.