Before Thursday, St. Paul went 47 days without a homicide — the longest stretch all year.
But just after sunset that evening, gunfire erupted outside an Asian food distributor on the West Side and shattered the relative peace that had settled over the capital city.
A 28-year-old man is suspected in the fatal shooting and a nearby assault that injured one woman. He was arrested Thursday night after he crashed his vehicle into the fence line of Oakland Cemetery, said police spokesman Sgt. Mike Ernster.
The suspect, who is from St. Paul, remains in the Ramsey County jail on suspicion of murder. The Star Tribune generally does not name suspects before they’ve been charged.
Officers responded to a call in the 200 block of State Street around 5:30 p.m. Thursday on a report of a shooting. They found a man with gunshot wounds to his head and torso in the parking lot of J & P Trading, not far from the St. Paul Downtown Airport. He was taken to Regions Hospital, where he later died.
The Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office will identify the victim after an autopsy.
Shortly after the shooting, officers responded to a report of an assault at Jackson and E. Sycamore streets. Police located an injured woman, who they believe either fell or was pushed from the suspect’s van that crashed into the cemetery fence nearby. She remains hospitalized with a noncritical neck injury.
The suspect fled the scene on foot but was quickly caught by police. He has previous misdemeanor convictions for assault, disorderly conduct and drug possession.
Ernster declined to characterize the suspect’s relationship with the injured woman or the dead man. Messages left for the listed business owner, Joseph Lee, were not immediately returned.
A law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation believes the incident may be related to last week’s fatal shooting outside a rap concert in Spring Lake Park.
A dispute between rival street gangs spilled outside Dala Thai Restaurant and Event Center, where a barrage of bullets killed 19-year-old Chai Yang and wounded seven others. The injured parties were all between the ages of 19 and 38 and are expected to recover. All but one live in St. Paul.
Thursday’s homicide marks the 31st of the year, including a fatal police shooting. A spike in gun violence earlier this fall doubled St. Paul’s typical murder rate, marking an all-time high in shooting deaths.
In recent weeks, as the temperatures dipped, so too did the pace of the violence. As of Dec. 10, two people had been shot in the capital city compared with nine during the same period last year. That was a dramatic drop from the 15 gunshot victims tallied in November.
“In the winter, things just naturally slow down because of the weather,” Cmdr. Ken Sass, who leads the department’s Gun and Gang unit, said in a recent interview. “During the summer, it picks up.”
Authorities attribute some of the reduction in shootings to increased manpower inside that unit, which added a sergeant and eight officers to help manage the caseload.
By Thursday afternoon, a makeshift memorial of flowers and candles began to form inside the J & P Trading parking lot where the latest victim died.
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648