ST CLOUD, Minn. - Several people were injured and a suspect died Saturday after a stabbing attack at a St. Cloud mall.
St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson says eight people were taken to St. Cloud Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries following the attack first reported about 8:15 p.m. at the Crossroads Center.
In a news conference, St. Cloud Police Sgt. Jason Burke confirmed that the suspect was killed by an off-duty police officer. The suspect was wearing a private security outfit. Police believe that the suspect acted alone.
Anderson said the attacker, who was 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.
Just before 11 p.m., St. Cloud Hospital Communications Specialist Chris Nelson told the St. Cloud Times that eight patients were taken to the hospital; seven were treated and released, one was admitted.
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.
People are starting to leave the mall. Many of them have been waiting in the food court. Police are asking for photo ID before they leave.— Heidi Wigdahl (@HeidiWigdahl) September 18, 2016
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.”