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Kyle Potter, Associated Press, Published February 12 2013

Police seeking motive in Oakdale, Minn., random shootings that killed boy

OAKDALE, Minn. — Oakdale police said Tuesday they are still trying to determine why a 34-year-old man apparently began randomly shooting at vehicles, killing a 9-year-old boy and injuring two women.

Police Chief Bill Sullivan said Nhan Lap Tran of Oakdale was arrested Monday after police responded to a report of shots fired in a neighborhood in the St. Paul suburb. Tran was in custody Tuesday on suspicion of second-degree murder and first-degree assault.

Police said Tuesday they are still investigating. Sullivan said it appeared Tran legally owned the handgun used in the attack, and that authorities are not aware of any mental health issues regarding Tran. He said officials were trying to determine if something happened to trigger the shootings.

“At this particular point in time it appears to be completely random,” Sullivan said.

A boy riding in a minivan with his mother was killed. The mother, Melissa Aryal, told The Associated Press that she picked up her son, Devin, from daycare Monday evening and was heading home when she heard a noise that sounded like something under the hood. Aryal pulled up to a stop sign, turned the corner, and was hit in the arm by a bullet.

She drove to the parking lot of a nearby Rainbow Foods and noticed Devin was bent over, also shot. She says she held him until an ambulance arrived, but the boy who wanted to be an astronaut someday died of his injuries.

“He didn't deserve this. He was just a baby,” she said.

Aryal was injured. A 68-year-old woman in another vehicle also hurt, and was undergoing surgery for multiple gunshot wounds, police said. Sullivan said she was expected to survive.

Cheryl Russell, 55, lives across the street from a house where Tran lived. She said she was sitting on her couch, which faces a bay window, about 6 p.m. Monday when she saw a short, stocky man in dark clothes walking down the street. Russell said the man seemed to be out for a stroll, but then began firing.

Russell said her son shouted from upstairs that a man was outside shooting at cars. Russell peered out the window while her husband called police. She heard about 15 shots, and could see flashes from the gun as the man fired it.

“He was nonchalant,” Russell said. “Just walking like he was out for a stroll. It was crazy.”

Russell said police were on the scene in minutes. She said she didn't know the gunman. Sullivan said Tran had a handgun near him when he was arrested and a “substantial” number of rounds of ammunition with him.

Detectives combed a six-block area for spent gun casings and additional gunfire damage on Tuesday. Sullivan said a total of four vehicles were shot.

A small group of about 10 people huddled in prayer at the Rainbow Foods parking lot Tuesday to pray for the victims. The Rev. Chris Duckworth led the group, and read Psalms of Lament: “Psalms where the people are crying out, ‘Why God? Why?’” Duckworth said.

Duckworth, a senior pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in St. Paul, invited friends on Facebook to join him to pray. He said he didn't know any of the victims, but knew he had to give people a chance to grieve.

“Frankly, I didn't know what else to do,” he said.

Devin Aryal was a fourth-grader at Oakdale Elementary School, a school of about 500 students. A team of social workers and psychologists was talking with students Tuesday. District 622 spokeswoman Jennifer McNeil said students are shaken up and “some of the kids are taking it pretty hard.”

Melissa Aryal cried as she talked about her son, who she described as a happy-go-lucky boy who loved soccer, math and science. She said he was a good student, and liked science because it gave him a chance to tinker — take things apart and put them back together.

“He loved life. He loved everybody,” she said.

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said authorities were still digging for information, and investigators planned to meet in his office Tuesday afternoon to review the case. He expected to bring charges Wednesday morning.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.