Ryan Schliep and his girlfriend had just gone inside a Minnesota shopping mall when he saw a girl screaming and crying.
“Call 911!” the girl said, according to Schliep.
Moments later, as he was standing by one of the mall’s entrances, a man in uniform walked toward him.
“He looked me dead in the eyes,” Schliep told The Washington Post. “He had a pretty emotionless face, just a blank stare.”
Then, without a word, the man raised his arm and stabbed Schliep in the head, causing him to fall to the ground. The blade went through his skin and touched his skull, Schliep said. From what he can tell, the man was holding a small knife, and the blade barely stuck out of his hand.
Schliep got back up, and he and another man, who also had been stabbed, tried to chase their attacker, who had run toward a Target store. At that point, Schliep felt blood running down his face and neck. People around him began panicking and screaming, shopkeepers started closing their doors, and Schliep realized he had to find a place to hide.
He said he went inside a Forever 21 store, where his girlfriend also had taken cover. An employee grabbed some clothing and wrapped it around Schliep’s head to stop the bleeding.
Authorities are still trying to find out what drove the young assailant, whose run-ins with law enforcement involved only minor traffic violations, to stab 10 people inside the Crossroads Center mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota, about 70 miles northwest of Minneapolis. The attacks occurred around 8 p.m. Saturday and ended inside a Macy’s store, where an off-duty police officer fatally shot the assailant.
The FBI in Minneapolis and the St. Cloud Police Department are investigating the attack as a “potential act of terrorism,” Richard Thornton, FBI special agent in Minneapolis, said during a news conference on Sunday. A news agency linked to the Islamic State militant group had claimed that the attacker, identified by community leaders as Dahir Aden, was “a soldier of the Islamic State.”
Authorities said Monday, though, that Aden appeared to have acted alone. Investigators have found no evidence that he had direct or indirect communications with the Islamic State, or that the militant group planned the attack or knew of it beforehand.
“We haven’t uncovered anything that would suggest other than lone attacker at this point,” St. Cloud Police Chief William Blair Anderson said at a news conference on Monday.
St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis said the attacker lunged at Jason Falconer, a part-time police officer in Avon, Minnesota, 15 miles northwest of St. Cloud. Falconer then fired shots at the stabber, who fell but got up three times before he died.
Officials have not released any information about the attacker, who, according to Anderson, was shot multiple times.
“What we’re doing is we’re trying to find out as much as we can about this individual’s background,” Anderson told The Post. “Right now, that’s at the top of our list. The hope is that we will be able to figure out his motivation. I want to know everything about him from the day he was born.”
Aden was a student at St. Cloud State University and a private security guard at Electrolux, a home appliance store located near the mall. Abdul Kulane, of the Central Minnesota Community Empowerment Organization, said he was contacted by Aden’s parents, who did not know what drove their son to carry out the attack.
Aden – identified by some news organizations as 22-year-old Dahir A. Adan – moved to the United States from Kenya at age 2, Kulane said. He grew up in St. Cloud and graduated from Apollo High School in 2014. His parents described him as smart, quiet and interested in soccer. Kulane said he does not believe Aden had taken any recent trips overseas and added that his family and community are in shock.
Authorities in Minnesota are still exploring the possibility that terrorist groups have reached out to members of the large Somali community in the state. Census data from 2010 indicate that about 85,700 people with Somali ancestry live in the United States, 25,000 of them in Minnesota. Aden is of Somali descent, according to the St. Cloud Times.
In a statement Sunday, the Amaq news agency – linked to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS – said the attacker “carried out the operation in response to calls to target citizens of countries belonging to the crusader coalition.”
The assailant, who was wearing a private security uniform, made at least one reference to Allah during the attack and asked at least one person whether they were Muslim before attacking them, according to St. Cloud police.
Kleis, the St. Cloud mayor, said Falconer “clearly prevented additional injuries and potential loss of life,” adding: “His heroic actions are exemplary.”
The off-duty officer is the former police chief of Albany, Minnesota, and president and owner of Tactical Advantage Firearms Training.
He declined to comment when reached by The Post on Monday. But in a brief interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, he said he’d “been trying to stay away from it all, for the time being.”
Aden’s fatal encounter with Falconer at Macy’s was caught on surveillance video. Investigators are canvassing the entire mall for other videos that could provide a definitive timeline of the attack, Anderson said.
All the victims, eight men and two women whose ages range from 15 to 53, suffered injuries that were not life-threatening. Authorities initially said that there were nine victims, but police said Monday that they’d found a 10th victim who didn’t initially seek medical attention.
Schliep, 18, of Willmar, Minnesota, said he was released from the hospital on Sunday afternoon.
Anderson said investigators have executed search warrants at two apartments in St. Cloud. Investigators also found and impounded the attacker’s vehicle in the mall parking lot.
Sydney Weires was at the mall during the incident. She told the St. Cloud Times that she and her friends were walking down a hallway when they heard a loud scream.
“I saw this security guard sprinting down the hallway toward Target,” Weirs told the paper. “He was yelling, ‘Call the cops! Call the cops!'”
She said they later saw two men drenched in blood; one was bleeding from the side of his face, while the other had blood on the back of his shirt.
“He was screaming at us, ‘Get the F out!’ ” she said about one of the men, according to the paper.
Weires and her friends were able to leave the mall before authorities enforced a lockdown.
“We could have been one of the victims,” she told the paper. “It’s insane.”
Hours after the incident, groups of shoppers huddled inside the mall’s food court. They were eventually released, said Sgt. Jason Burke, a spokesman for the police department, though the mall was closed Sunday as the investigation continued.
Many of the attacks that the Islamic State has claimed since the coordinated shootings and bombings in Paris in November have been carried out by individuals who were simply inspired by the group’s ideology and probably never came into direct contact with its operatives, The Post’s Max Bearak wrote in July.
Matthew Henman, who heads the Terrorism and Insurgency Center at IHS Jane’s, a private firm specializing in military and security analysis, said in an email on Monday that the militant group’s claim for the Minnesota stabbing “is the latest in a long series” of attacks that have been “seemingly conducted by lone actors who had not traveled to Iraq and Syria and did not have clear links to Islamic State.
“Nonetheless,” he continued, “there have been multiple indications that the group has been in contact with such individuals, directing and guiding their operations. Even if only indirectly linked, the Islamic State can claim to have inspired the attack in Minnesota, as it follows the kind of operations that it has called on its supporters to conduct.”
He added: “Lone actor attacks require less planning, organization, skill and expertise, so we are likely to see more. They are far harder for security services to detect and prevent.”
The Minnesota attack occurred on the same night that an explosion went off in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. At least 29 people suffered injuries that were not life-threatening. One person was seriously injured, authorities said.
Hours earlier, a pipe bomb exploded in a garbage can in Seaside Park, New Jersey, shortly before a scheduled charity race benefiting Marines and Navy sailors.
On Sunday night, law enforcement combed an area around an Elizabeth, New Jersey, train station where a backpack with “multiple improvised explosive devices” was found. Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage said up to five devices were discovered inside a backpack, and one of the devices exploded as it was being disarmed, shortly after 12:30 a.m. Monday.
Authorities have since apprehended Ahmad Khan Rahami, who was wanted in connection with the explosions in Seaside Park and Manhattan.
Speaking in New York on Monday, President Barack Obama said there is no known connection between the stabbing attack in Minnesota and the explosions in New York and New Jersey.
In a statement, mall officials said they were “devastated by the events that happened at Crossroads Center. The safety and well-being of our customers and employees is our number one priority. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who were impacted by this tragic event.”
Crossroads Center reopened Monday.
Schliep, a merchandiser for a Coca-Cola plant in Willmer, said he still can’t believe that the attacks happened in Minnesota.
“It’s not something you’d expect to walk into,” he said.
The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.
Dahir Adan was a 22-year-old Somali immigrant. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)