Officials praise off-duty cop who ended attack

St. Cloud police press conference

ST CLOUD, Minn. - An FBI official says investigators are viewing an attack at a St. Cloud mall in which a man stabbed several people as a possible act of terrorism.

Nine people were injured by the attacker who was killed inside the Macy's store by an off-duty Avon police officer. 

St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis identified that officer as Jason Falconer during a press conference Sunday. He praised Falconer saying, "He clearly prevented additional injuries and potentially loss of life."

St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson said the attacker, who was wearing a private security outfit and armed with a knife, reportedly made references to Allah during the attack and asked at least one person whether they were Muslim. But late Saturday night, Anderson pointedly declined to call the attacks an act of terrorism, saying the motive isn't yet known.

According to the Associated Press on Sunday, An Islamic State-run news agency claimed the suspect was a "soldier of the Islamic State," saying the attacker had heeded calls from the extremist group for attacks in countries that are part of a U.S.-led anti-IS coalition.

FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Rick Thornton said at a news conference Sunday that authorities are digging into the suspect's background to determine his possible motivation. He said they are viewing the attack as a "possible act of terrorism."

Kleis says there were nine people who were hurt, not eight, as authorities previously reported. He says the ninth person took themselves to a hospital and was treated and released. Three of the victims remain hospitalized with injuries that aren't considered life-threatening.

KARE 11 reporter Heidi Wigdahl spoke with Shye Makarrall who hid inside a store. Makarral says she saw people walking around inside with blood on them.

Harley and Tama Exsted of Isle, who were in St. Cloud Saturday to watch their son play in a college golf tournament at Blackberry Ridge, were in the mall when the incident occurred.

"All of a sudden I heard pop pop pop," Harley said. "I thought someone tipped over a shelf. All of a sudden these people started running. I just saw everybody running our way."

"It was a pa-pow, and then we saw the people start to run, which didn't catch me at first," he said. "But when we heard the screaming, then we knew it was time to go."

The couple escaped unharmed and said they helped another woman who was running from the scene to her car.

Worried relatives of shoppers gathered near the scene.

Anthony Bellow, 18, a Technical High School student who recently moved to St. Cloud from Columbus, Ohio, went to the mall to visit his brother Dominic, 21, who works at Target, and was told to leave.

Bellow said his brother, whose shift was about a half-hour from ending when the violence broke out, sent him a text that said there was a shooter in the mall.

"My brother and I have always been really close. I want to make sure he's OK and give him a hug," Anthony Bellow said.

Target employees huddled in the mens' clothing department, Bellow said his brother had communicated by text message. They later moved up to the registers, he said.

Their mother, who is still in Ohio, asked Dominic to text her a photo from inside the mall to show he's safe, and he did, Bellow said.

Adonis Samuels, 42, St. Cloud, was also outside the mall where his wife Roxanne is a manager at Clinique at Macy's.

"She called me on the phone and told me she was hiding under the counter with a customer," Samuels said.

She later called and said she was safe in a secured area.

Samuels remained outside, watching for her. He said he'd seen her through the glass doors at one point so he knew she was safe.

Desi Spoden, 52, of Sauk Rapids and her husband were in the parking lot awaiting word from their 17-year-old daughter, Katy, who was inside the mall at Lady Foot Locker. They raced to the scene after hearing about the incident.

Spoden said her daughter's friend reached her to let know they were OK. "Her friend called to let us know they were OK; they are on lockdown," she said.

Shortly before 9 p.m., a St. Cloud police officer with an assault rifle could be seen near the west entrance of Macy’s. Other officers were searching shrubbery near the mall with flashlights, according to Times staffers on the scene.

Officers from St. Cloud, Waite Park, Cold Spring and the Minnesota State Patrol, as well as Gold Cross ambulance and St. Cloud Fire Department crews were on the scene.

Sen. Klobuchar issued a statement following the attack. Here is is in part:

“While we will learn more about the facts surrounding this horrific attack today, one thing we know for certain this morning: Due to the courageous actions of an off-duty area police officer, the good work of first responders, and the reaction of those present at the mall, lives were saved. I have spoken with both Mayor Kleis and Chief Anderson in St. Cloud. They are both strong leaders, and I know they will do everything necessary to investigate this stabbing and get all the facts out to the community. Citizens and civic and religious leaders in St. Cloud have worked hard over the years to bridge divides and come together.”


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