BOISE, Idaho — Families who had fled danger and violence overseas were enjoying a 3-year-old’s birthday party in Boise, Idaho, when the unthinkable happened: A man ran up and began chasing and stabbing the children, then turned his knife on the adults who tried to stop him.
The attack Saturday night at a low-income apartment complex that is home to refugee families from around the world had injured nine people, including the birthday girl and five other children ranging in age from 4 to 12. The most gravely wounded were clinging to life Sunday evening, Boise Police Chief William Bones said.
“The victims are some of the newest members of our community,” Bones said Sunday. “This was an attack against those who are most vulnerable.”
Members of refugee families from Syria, Iraq and Ethiopia were among the injured.
Police arrived less than four minutes after receiving a report of a man with a knife and found victims lying in the street, in the parking lot and inside the complex. Timmy Kinner, 30, was arrested a short distance away.
Kinner, who is not a refugee, had been asked to leave the apartment complex Friday after staying with a resident there for a short time, Bones said. He faces several felony charges, including aggravated battery and injury to a child. The police chief did not know if Kinner had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
“We have no specific evidence at this time to believe it was a hate crime,” Bones told reporters Sunday, saying the victims may have been targeted simply because of where they were on the property.
But the motive is still being investigated, the police chief said.
Esrom Habte, 12, and Fathi Mahamoud, 11, were playing in the grass behind their apartment when the attack began. They ran for safety when they saw the suspect chasing people.
“We saw a killer and didn’t want to get stabbed,” Esrom said. “We saw him saying, like, bad words and stabbing a kid and a grown-up really hard and a lot of times.”
The two ran into an apartment and hid in a closet with Esrom’s two sisters and another child. They stayed inside until police told them it was safe.
“I saw the police cleaning stuff, and then I came outside,” Fathi said, adding that the victims are his friends.
The attack resulted in the most victims in a single incident in Boise Police Department history, Bones said.
“The crime scene, the faces of the parents struggling, the tears coming down their faces, the faces of the children in their hospital beds will be something that I carry with me for the rest of my life, as will every first responder that night,” the police chief said.
Police believe Kinner had only been in Boise, the capital and largest city in Idaho, for a short time when he met a resident of the complex, who offered him a temporary place to stay. She asked him to leave Friday because of his behavior, but Bones did not elaborate.
“I believe her perception was, ‘Here’s a helping hand I can give in return for a helping hand I have been given,'” the chief said.
The woman was not among the victims, he said.
Residents of the apartment complex and the rest of the community were “reeling” from the violence, Bones said, and the victims will need long-term community support.
“This isn’t something that gets over in the days or weeks that follow. … The level of the some of the injuries will be life-altering in a very negative way,” Bones said.
Megan Schwab, who works with the International Rescue Committee in Boise, said the organization was working to provide temporary housing, counseling and other support to those affected.
A candlelight vigil was planned Monday evening, and several organizations and individuals were launching fundraising campaigns to help cover the victims’ expenses.
For some of the refugees, the attack revived traumatic memories of war and violence they had fled. The blood from the stabbings reminded Fathi’s mother, Thado Aip, of the terror she left in Somalia, an interpreter said.
Fathi stayed close to his mother Sunday, at times sitting on the grass to lean against her legs as he watched officers at the crime scene.AlertMe