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Life had granted Daquan Thompson few favors, starting with him growing up without a father or a mother.

But those who knew him best say that he had broken free of his chaotic childhood and grown into a fine young man, going to school and taking care of his 5-year-old son. The future held promise.

That journey was cut short on the evening of Oct. 3 when he was stabbed to death during an altercation with a knife-bearing man near a south Minneapolis light-rail station.

The scuffle that ended with his death started outside the Lake Street station, where he got into an argument with a man named Frank Runningshield. As they parted ways, police say that Runningshield plunged a knife into Thompson’s chest, causing him to double over in pain.

Thompson, 26, staggered in and out of view of a surveillance camera that captured the attack before collapsing near the station’s entrance, police said. A friend held his hand as he lay dying on the pavement.

Runningshield, 43, reportedly turned to a witness as he hustled away and said, “He’ll be OK, it’s just a flesh wound.” Another witness watching from his window overlooking the station recorded a grainy cellphone video of paramedics attempting CPR on Thompson’s limp body.

Later that night, Thompson’s aunt, Dionne Barry, who had adopted him before his second birthday, got a phone call that every parent dreads. Thompson was dead, the caller said.

She tried to make sense of what happened. She figured her nephew was going to or coming from class at the Father Project, a local nonprofit that helps fathers support their families financially and emotionally. Maybe, she thought, he had stopped at the station to talk with friends.

Barry had taken Thompson — “funny, precocious, nosy” — in as an infant after his birth mother and father were no longer in the picture. He grew up in the Longfellow neighborhood but attended school in Eden Prairie. Despite his popularity, he was sometimes unsure of where he fit in, Barry said.

“I think he had his own demons,” Barry said. but “he would let you know that it didn’t have anything to do with any of us.”

After high school, he worked odd jobs and volunteered at nursing homes. He’d hang around for hours with the elderly residents, talking about life and his love of music, reggae and Motown mostly, she said.

“Al Green was his favorite,” Barry recalled. “He had an old soul.”

He had had a few minor scrapes with the law, mostly for driving violations. He occasionally sold marijuana on the side. Recently, he was arrested for trespassing at a convenience store near the train station and then blowing smoke into a detective’s face, court records show.

But those who knew him best say that he was starting to find his way in life.

Meah Ismail remembered how Thompson loved roller-skating and that the two of them would go to St. Louis Park’s Roller Garden on Fridays for “Funk Night” or would hit up the Cheap Skate Roller-Skating Rink in Coon Rapids when they wanted to avoid crowds.

“He just had his own style, it was a little roll bounce, it was a little funky disco, he just had his own swag,” she said.

Suspect admitted anger

At the same time, she said, he grappled with his identity into adulthood.

“Oftentimes, we forget about black men, we forget that they live in a world where they can’t get love,” Ismail said. “He struggled with fatherhood and he struggled with being black and being happy.”

The suspect in his attack is being held in the county jail with bail set at $2 million. He’s been assigned a public defender, who declined to comment Wednesday because he said the case was being transferred to another attorney.

Runningshield was angry on the night of the slaying, he told officers after his arrest, because Thompson had been “messing with” his family and friends for several weeks, according to a criminal complaint charging him with second-degree murder.

Runningshield was previously convicted of one count of aiding and abetting murder and acquitted of another in a 2000 incident in which he and another man were accused of fatally beating a man whom they suspected of cooperating with authorities.

In the meantime, Thompson’s family and friends struggle with his death.

Rowena Howard, who met Thompson nearly a decade ago through a mutual friend and started dating him soon after, said she noticed a change in him after the birth of their son.

He seemed determined to be the father he didn’t have, she said.

Howard said she tried to hold off on explaining his absence to the couple’s son — a junior who “looks just like him, just a lighter version, just as goofy.” But when it finally came time, she stumbled for words.

“I tried to tell him in a way that he would know that he wouldn’t see him again,” she said, “so I told him that he went away to live in Heaven with the angels.”

Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 • Twitter: @StribJany