‘Last man standing’

Fargo authorities conducted a follow-up press conference yesterday, as reported in the Fargo Inforum, to update the public with more facts that have been determined in the ambush shooting of several Fargo police officers late last week. 

The information released suggests the attacker, Mohamad Barakat, 37, of Fargo, was planning a mass murder action and may have been enroute to the Fargo Street Fair just minutes from his home when he happened upon a car crash that was being responded to by four police officers. Information suggests Barakat, who had loaded his car with explosives, gasoline, a grenade, three rifles, four handguns, and 1800 rounds of ammunition, parked near the crash scene and waited until three of the officers were near his car, then opened fire on them.

Officer Jake Wallin was fatally struck down, and officers Tyler Hawes and Andrew Dotas were critically wounded in the ambush. There was no known contact made with Barakat before his attack, and none of the officers even had an opportunity to draw their firearms.

After Barakat shot the officers, he turned his fire towards Karlee Koswick who had been involved in the original traffic accident and was standing on the sidewalk. Koswick was struck and injured. Firefighters who were in the process of clearing the scene also reportedly came under fire, and a tire of their fire rig was shot out. No firefighters were injured.

Hero among heroes

Fortunately, a fourth police officer, Zach Robinson, was still on scene and was separated from the other officers when Barakat opened fire. Officer Robinson’s actions were by all accounts nothing short of heroic. He radioed that three officers had been shot, and that more squads were needed. He then set out with his handgun to engage Barakat, who he knew was armed with a rifle. From approximately 75 feet, which is a long pistol shot made even tougher under the stress of such an event, Officer Robinson fired at Barakat and disabled Barakat’s rifle which still had about 20 rounds in it. This shot likely saved Officer Robinson’s life, but also throngs of potential victims that Barakat may have killed had he been able to continue on to the Street Fair from this initial shooting.

Instead, Barakat was forced to transition to a pistol he also held. Officer Robinson attempted multiple times to get Barakat to drop the pistol and surrender. When he didn’t, Officer Robinson closed distance on Barakat and fatally shot him near his car. 

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney aptly described Officer Robinson as “The last man standing.”  His actions were truly heroic, while Barakat’s were simply those of a complete coward.  The City of Fargo and the entire law enforcement profession can share in a sense of relief and pride that good triumphed over evil.

Respecting the process

As I wrote earlier this week here, it is refreshing to witness the process of this investigation play out in a professional and respectful manner. Authorities have avoided the mistakes made all too often in 2023, when they cave to demands for information before the facts are even gathered.  This often leads to unnecessary mistakes and contradictions which ultimately undermine the integrity of the investigation.

The information supplied in the first five days has been informative and appropriately timed to balance the interests of the public without compromising the integrity of the investigation. 

Authorities even announced a follow-up press conference for Friday, in which they plan to share more of what they have learned about Barakat’s history and intent. This move sets the stage for learning pertinent information while eliminating criticism and the creation of an adversary atmosphere between authorities and the press and public.

Another refreshing aspect emerging from this tragedy has been the clear message being sent by North Dakota’s Attorney General Drew Wrigley — support the police. Wrigley and his office made it a priority to review the evidence promptly to make a determination on Robinson’s use of force against Barakat. This was important to do promptly, to focus the investigation where it belongs — on Barakat. After doing so Wrigley stated Officer Robinson’s use of force was “reasonable, it was justified, and it was lawful in every possible way.”

While it may seem obvious to most that Officer Robinson’s actions were not only proper but heroic, there is no doubt in some communities that activists would attempt to use the situation to question the law enforcement response. 

Minnesotan’s have become accustomed to Attorney General Keith Ellison sounding almost apologetic that the facts of a case would not allow him to charge involved officers, rather than offer support to the officers who used legal and proper force to prevent death or great bodily harm to themselves or others. The differences between Wrigley and Ellison couldn’t be clearer.

A prime example is Wrigley’s call to North Dakota residents to be worthy of the work the police do for us every day, and the sacrifices they make.

“Don’t just go to their funerals.  Don’t just show up to the peace officer’s memorial. Don’t just seek their support when you need it.  Back the blue!”

North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley

As I noted earlier this week, many communities aren’t represented by leaders that have the courage to speak out for what is right. Many people have the misfortune to live in communities that are led by activist voices which drown out the silent majority. Fargo would be wise to cherish what they have and hold on to it tightly.