The man in the security guard uniform strode into the Minnesota mall just after 8 p.m. Saturday somewhere near Sears. He flashed a knife “big enough to hurt someone,” police said, and apparently asked one of his would-be victims: Are you Muslim?
Authorities in St. Cloud called the stabbings a “potential terrorist attack,” citing the incomplete investigation at the sprawling crime scene. They say the assailant, who has not been identified, made a reference to Allah.
The Islamic State on Sunday took credit for the attack through the Amaq news agency, which is aligned with the militant group: “The executor of the stabbing attacks in Minnesota yesterday was a soldier of the Islamic State and carried out the operation in response to calls to target the citizens of countries belonging to the crusader coalition.”
The attacks shattered a sedate evening at Crossroads Center mall, the largest shopping center in Minnesota outside Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Danny Carranza was watching his children at the play area when the attack started, he told the St. Cloud Times.
“People came running around the corner and I freaked out because I thought it was a terrorist attack or something because I saw a lot of people, so I grabbed my kids,” he told the newspaper.
“I ran as much as I could and I heard someone yell ‘Stop! Stop!’ As soon as the door shut I heard gunshots.”
Sydney Weires, Maggie Gelke and Jenna Remmele, students at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, had decided to head to the mall on Saturday. Weires needed some things from Target, and they didn’t have other plans, so they made the 10-mile drive.
The women went to J.C. Penney and were on the way to Target when they decided to make a quick stop at Victoria’s Secret.
About 8:10 p.m., they left the lingerie store and continued onto Target. Then they heard screams and saw two men “just dripping with blood,” Weires told The Washington Post.
“One guy had blood dripping down his face,” she said. “The other guy, it looked like he had just been stabbed in the back and his whole back of his shirt, it was gray but it was covered in blood.”
The men were staggering, Gelke said, but they were yelling that “there’s a guy running around the mall with a knife.”
“The only thing that they said that we heard clearly,” she said, “was, ‘Get the f— out of the mall.'”
The three women were already moving. They sprinted past Victoria’s Secret and through J.C. Penney to the parking lot.
“We started to drive home and we passed a bunch of cop cars going past us at 90 miles an hour,” Gelke said.
At the mall, meanwhile, off-duty officer Jason Falconer — who works part time in nearby Avon, Minn. — was squaring off against the suspect, authorities said.
Falconer “was there at the right time and the right place,” St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis said.
Falconer is a gun instructor and a former police chief in Albany, Minn. He owns Tactical Advantage, a gun store and range that also offers classes for people to qualify for Minnesota’s conceal and carry permit.
One of the classes Tactical Advantage offers deals with the use of deadly force against armed subjects, according to its website. The classes help students “hone their skills and (makes) them ready for the real world.”
Kleis said the final altercation between Falconer and the attacker was captured on a mall surveillance camera.
Falconer “identified himself as a police officer and you actually see [the stabber] going down by command then immediately lunging toward the officer,” Kleis recounted.
“The officer then fired a few rounds,” Kleis said. “You see [the attacker] fall, you see him get back up, three times. Even after [the attacker was fatally shot] he was still attempting to get back up.”
After the assailant was killed, investigators emphasized that it would take time to fully understand his motivations and determine any terrorism links.
Police Chief Blair Anderson said at a midnight news conference that the attack “hit home for us.”
“It’s an awful day. Starting tomorrow, things won’t be the same.”