A Prior Lake man was charged Monday with fatally stabbing a 17-year-old Stillwater boy and wounding four others during a weekend confrontation between a group of people floating on the Apple River, a popular tubing destination in western Wisconsin.
Nicolae Miu, 52, appeared via video connection Monday afternoon in St. Croix County Circuit Court in Hudson and was ordered held in lieu of $1 million cash bond after being charged with first-degree homicide and four counts of attempted first-degree homicide.
The case leans heavily on a video recorded Saturday afternoon by a man in a group of tubers, some of whom shoved Miu and accused him of looking for underage girls, according to the charges. After a few minutes, Miu allegedly killed Isaac Schuman with a stab wound to his upper abdomen, while four others in their 20s were less seriously wounded.
Questioned by law enforcement after his arrest, Miu said he acted in self-defense as several people came at him while he was looking for a cellphone that was lost by a friend. He said some of them "produced two weapons," hit him and were on top of him at one point while calling him a child molester.
"They attacked me, [and] I was in self-defense mode," the charges quoted him as saying. Once he saw someone with a knife, he continued, "I thought that was it for me." He added that he didn't remember stabbing anyone, and only had a knife with him earlier in the day to cut the string that held their tubes together.
Told of the teen's death, Miu said, "Oh, no," the charges read.
Should Miu post bail, he must maintain "absolute sobriety" and not possess any weapons, Judge Michael Waterman said.
Miu, handcuffed at the wrists and in orange prison garb, sat quietly in a room at the jail under the watch of sheriff's deputies during his first appearance. A copy of the criminal complaint sat on a table before him. He responded "yes, sir" to questions from the judge about his identity and other routine matters.
During the hearing, prosecutor Erica Ellenwood requested a $500,000 cash bond. Ellenwood acknowledged that Miu has no criminal record but noted that he does not reside in the county and if convicted of killing Schuman could face a life sentence.
Defense attorney Jeremiah Harrelson argued for bond of $50,000. He pointed out that Miu owns his home, is his family's sole wage earner, works as a mechanical engineer and has lived in the Twin Cities area since 1993.
Harrelson called the incident "an unanticipated, random encounter on the river. ... Something went wrong on the river, and it escalated into some unfortunate, very unfortunate, consequences."
The judge scheduled a hearing for Friday to discuss legal representation to be followed by another hearing on Aug. 12.
The Apple River has long been a major summertime attraction for Twin Cities residents.
The victims and Miu were all tubing down the river around 3:45 p.m., Sheriff Scott Knudson said. The attack happened just upstream from the Hwy. 35/64 bridge in Somerset Township, close to the Minnesota border and northeast of Stillwater.
According to the criminal complaint:
Miu ran up to several people and grabbed their tubes, a video recording of the encounter provided to law enforcement revealed. People in the group yelled at Miu to get away.
Miu walked around as if appearing to be looking for something, started to leave before turning around and saying something. More people converged on him and yelled for him to leave. He walked toward a woman, and people were heard saying "he was looking for little girls."
The crowd grew larger, and "it does appear that at least one person touched his shoulder" as people were on three sides of Miu at varying distances. Miu had the "opportunity ... to leave the confrontation," but did not, the complaint said.
While two women confronted him, Miu held a knife at his side with the blade exposed. Multiple people moved toward Miu and he fell backward into the water and was slapped in the face.
Miu got back on his feet and was shoved from behind by someone in swimming trunks who came at him again. Miu then stabbed the person wearing the trunks in the abdomen "while being shoved back in the water on his back."
As Miu stood up again, the shoving of Miu continued, and he responded with more stabbing motions and ran off.
Miu's wife, Sondra Miu, told law enforcement that she and her husband went to the river with two friends to ride tubes. She said her husband left the group to look for a cellphone that one of them had lost.
She said she saw people get off their tubes and start hitting him, but she did not see anything else. She said Miu told her that people grabbed the knife from him and swung it at him, and that they were accusing him of being a pedophile before attacking him.
Sondra Miu said she didn't think her husband "was there long enough to harm anyone," the charges read.
The surviving victims were all hospitalized in stable condition, ranging from serious to critical injuries to their torso or chest, Sunday's statement from the Sheriff's Office said. They include two men from Luck, Wis., one 20 and the other 22 years old, a 24-year-old woman from Burnsville and a 22-year-old man from Elk River. Officials have yet to disclose their identities.
Knudson said Monday afternoon that the two victims from Luck have since been released from the hospital.
The woman from Burnsville is Ryhley Mattison, who explained on a GoFundMe page on her behalf that "some friends and I were tubing when we came [across] a group who were asking for our help. My friends and I went over to see what was going on, and there was an older man there being inappropriate and was asked to leave but wouldn't. The older man ended up having a knife and stabbed a few friends of mine and myself included."
The sheriff said, "Thank goodness a witness had taken a photo of [the suspect]. Another witness located him at the exit of the tubing area, where he was taken into custody. ... It's a tragic day."
In response to the attack, the tubing services operator closed Sunday but resumed business Monday.
Saturday was "a difficult and tragic day on the river," a Facebook posting Sunday from River's Edge Campground read. "Tens of thousands of visitors annually ... have enjoyed floating the river with family and friends. Yesterday, an act of violence shattered that serenity."
The stabbing attack was a shock to longtime Apple River worker Chuck Ennis, who for 40 years has helped people park their cars before tubing. He sometimes drives one of the buses that ferry people to and from the water. He said Monday that he's sure he must have helped the victims park their car before they started tubing, and his daughter told him she remembers meeting Isaac Schuman, who died in the attack.
"She remembers talking to him because they struck up a little conversation," said Ennis.
After the attack, law enforcement shut down the river, and Ennis and his daughter drove buses ferrying people back to their cars.
"I've personally been doing this for 40 years and never, ever seen anything even close to this," he said.
He said he expects people to stay away from the river for now, maybe even for the rest of the season. His business on Monday was down significantly, with five groups on the river by lunchtime. Normally he'd have many more people out, he said.
Schuman was an incoming senior at Stillwater High School. A GoFundMe has been set up to benefit his family.
"He had an incredibly bright future ahead of him and we are all heartbroken and devastated beyond words that his future has been tragically and senselessly cut short," Schuman's family said in a statement. "We very much appreciate the overwhelming outpouring of love and support from our friends, Isaac's friends and the Stillwater Community."
Star Tribune staff writer Matt McKinney contributed to this report.