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After a Minneapolis-area 14-year-old was gunned down at a graduation party and a 19-year-old was shot dead at an illegal street racing event, the teens’ deaths are striking a chord amid soaring gun violence in the city that’s long advocated for defunding the police since George Floyd’s death.
An incoming high school sophomore was killed outside a graduation party in Woodbury, located 19 miles east of Minneapolis, Saturday night. Family said the 14-year-old Demaris Nathan Hobbs-Ekdahl was on the football team at Tartan High School and was cherished by his loved ones.
“He’s a good kid,” his mother, Trisha Ekdahl, told Fox 9 Minneapolis. “He didn’t deserve it. He wasn’t in the streets. He wasn’t a gang member, he didn’t do nothing wrong. Nothing.”
The Woodbury Police Department responded to the 6100 block of Edgewood Avenue to multiple 911 calls about someone who was shot. People could be heard screaming in the calls made to Washington County Dispatchers and one call included the plea from an unidentified voice saying, “Help me.”
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Officers arrived to the scene at 10:46 p.m. and found between 30 to 40 people in the area who were attending a graduation party at a nearby residence. Several houses on the block were hit by gunfire but no one else was injured, police said.
“He was leaving the scene and they shot the car up,” Trisha Ekdahl said, adding that Demaris attended the party with his 16-year-old brother. “And he told his other brother I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is assisting with the investigation after two SUVs were seen leaving the shooting, and the same vehicles are believed to be involved in recent incidents in nearby Maplewood and Oakdale.
Demaris Nathan Hobbs-Ekdahl, 14, (left) was fatally shot while attending a graduation party in the Minneapolis suburb of Woodbury. Vanessa Jensen, 19, (right) was fatally struck by stray gunfire while attending an illegal street racing event in northeast Minneapolis that same night.
That same night, in northeast Minneapolis, 19-year-old Vanessa Jensen was fatally struck by stray bullets while attending an illegal street racing event with three of her cousins and a friend. She was shot three times – once in each arm and once in the chest, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.
“She was going somewhere and she had a lot of potential,” her mother, Rachel Jensen, told the newspaper, describing her daughter as family-oriented, always positive and fiercely independent. “That potential was ripped away because of one night of her being a normal teenager.”
Minneapolis has been plagued by illegal street racing since the onset of the pandemic when roadways became emptier. Events often draw upward of 200 vehicles and involve participants throwing rocks and aiming fireworks at officers attempting to intervene, police spokesman John Elder said.
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“The important thing to remember is that this is not simply street racing,” Elder said. “This is nothing short of pure criminal behavior.”
A second victim, an unidentified young male, was found fatally shot near the street racing event Saturday, bringing the number of homicides in Minneapolis this year to 38. Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo requested support from several law enforcement agencies in the region.
It’s not the first time that city officials requested help from state and federal law enforcement while the Minneapolis Police Department is grappling with a shortage of officers and a rise in crime. Last month, the city sought outside support after a mass shooting outside a Minneapolis nightclub left two dead, including a bystander whose family said was walking home with a friend after a night out celebrating his upcoming college graduation.
University of St. Thomas student Charlie Johnson was killed hours before he was to take the stage to accept his diploma for an engineering degree.
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At that time, city officials also announced a $30,000 reward in the hunt for suspects responsible for the separate shootings of three children all under the age of 11 killed in Minneapolis. One of the children died — a 6-year-old girl hit by a stray gunfire while jumping on a trampoline.
Nearly 200 Minneapolis police officers have left the force in the wake of the death of Floyd, with many filing post-traumatic stress claims due to the civil unrest that followed.
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Last week, Frey outlined his proposal for spending the first of two rounds of the $271 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan. It included $65 million – representing 75% of the funding – dedicated to Community Planning & Economic Development. Just over 6%, or $5.6 million, was allocated to the police department. The proposal included funding for a violent crimes hot spot tasks, affordable housing and guaranteed basic income pilot and other initiative meant to address racial disparities.
Demonstrations have also continued in Minneapolis for at least four consecutive nights over the weekend over the shooting death last week of a Black man by members of a U.S. Marshals task force.