Dakota County has charged a man with murder for allegedly driving his minivan into an Eagan couple and killing them Thursday night.

Jonna Kojo Armartey, 36 and formerly of Eagan, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder; he is accused of deliberately hitting Diane Peterson, 58, and Roger Peterson, 74, with his van shortly before 10 p.m. in a strip-mall parking lot on Hwy. 13 in Eagan.

‘Vehicle was … a weapon’

County Attorney James Backstrom said he spent Monday morning with 28 of the couple’s relatives and friends.

“Clearly, it appears this vehicle was used as a weapon to cause the death of two innocent individuals,” he said. “It’s extremely tragic.”

Armartey made his first court appearance Monday and was being held in Dakota County jail on $2 million bail. He will next appear in court on July 12.

According to the complaint, Armartey told police that the Petersons had “freaked him out,” and “further stated that he was going fast and he hit them hard.” Armartey and the couple didn’t know each other, the complaint says.

Authorities found the Petersons bleeding and struggling to breathe in the parking lot. They were pronounced dead at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

After hitting them, Armartey fled the scene. A witness who had been listening to a police scanner recognized Armartey’s Dodge Caravan, which he had abandoned less than a mile away outside a restaurant.

Officers found that the silver minivan had a cracked windshield and front end damage, and discovered Diane Peterson’s cellphone stuck under a windshield wiper. They also could see prescription pill bottles in the van with Armartey’s name, the complaint said.

Several hours later, police arrested Armartey at an Apple Valley motel.

Backstrom said it’s unknown why Armartey appeared to have targeted the Petersons. But investigators discovered that the day before, police had responded to a dispute between the suspect and family members at an apartment near where the Petersons were later killed. Armartey was booted from the apartment and was seen moving his belongings into the minivan involved in the crash.

Armartey was on probation for three felony convictions, all in Dakota County. He was convicted of motor-vehicle theft, third-degree assault of a corrections officer and fourth-degree assault of a psychiatrist in March 2016.

He was civilly committed from June 2016 to December 2017 after a psychiatrist concluded that he wasn’t mentally competent to move forward with court proceedings. After a year and a half at the state hospital in St. Peter, he was declared competent.

Backstrom said he suspected that Armartey’s attorney will move to have his mental health and competency reviewed during the trial.

The Petersons, who were married for 37 years, had two children together and two children from Roger’s previous marriage.

The family issued a brief statement asking for privacy, mainly stating that the Petersons were actively involved in their church and community. “They were always there for support or encouragement and pillars for family and friends,” the statement said.

‘I want them back’

On Facebook, their son Conrad Peterson wrote: “I feel so empty. I think the best way to describe it is as a rudderless ship.” Anna Stahosky, another of the children, posted on Facebook: “I want them back so badly.”

The Petersons were members of South Metro Vineyard Church in Burnsville for more than 20 years. A service is planned there on July 28.

Greg Perkinson, pastor at the church, said in a Facebook message that the Petersons regularly attended services.

“We remember them both by their deep love of God [and] their sincere kindness toward others,” Perkinson said. “They walked together in life, they walked together into death and they walked together into the arms of Jesus.”