Investigators tight-lipped on fatal Fargo shooting; here’s what authorities are — and are not — saying

18 July 2023

FARGO Authorities are answering few questions about a Friday, July 14, shooting in Fargo that killed a police officer, including why the shooter opened fire.

The Fargo Police Department has declined to discuss the Friday shooting that killed 23-year-old Officer Jake Wallin. Fargo Chief Communications Officer Gregg Schildberger referred questions to the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, or BCI, noting the state agency is leading the investigation.

Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski did not return a message left by The Forum seeking comment on this story, but City Deputy Chief Communications Officer Katie Ettish said in an email that he was unavailable for an interview with The Forum on Monday.

“The first thing we always want to know in a situation like this is why,” Zibolski said Saturday during a news conference identifying those involved in the incident. “Why would somebody do this? What happened?”

Questions remain unanswered about the motive behind the actions of 37-year-old Fargo resident Mohamad Barakat, who Zibolski identified as the shooter.

The Forum asked authorities how Barakat came to North Dakota, how long he lived in the state, what kind of gun he used, how he obtained it and whether the firearm was obtained legally.

North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley, who oversees the BCI, said the case remains “a very active investigation,” adding he couldn’t comment. He said he is committed to discussing the case when the investigation is complete, though he didn’t have a timeline for when that would happen.

When asked about motive, including indications that Barakat’s actions were part of a terror attack, Wrigley said the BCI doesn’t have enough information to make an assessment on that. Agents are being open-minded and gathering as much information as possible before drawing conclusions, he said.

“All of that is being assessed,” he said. “We are making a full and complete assessment of this individual, his affiliations, his connections and the possibility of others’ involvement.”

‘I’d like to know why’

Wrigley confirmed the BCI is the lead investigating agency, but he described efforts to find out what happened as a joint investigation with the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF.

“We’re on the ground here,” Wrigley said. “It’s fair to say that the BCI is the lead investigative agency on it, but we are working very much hand-in-glove with the FBI. They’ve been very helpful.”

The FBI did not return a message requesting comment. North Dakota U.S. Attorney Mac Schneider, who was present during the Saturday news conference, declined to comment on the case, including why the FBI was involved.

“The only comment I can make is that the investigation is ongoing,” Schneider said.

The ATF frequently responds to incidents during which officers are injured, spokeswoman Ashlee J. L. Sherrill said. The entire Fargo office responded to the Friday shooting, she said.

ATF agents can help interview bystanders, but the most important service the ATF can offer is running traces on firearms used in a shooting to determine how they were obtained, Sherrill said.

The ATF is working to trace the gun used in Friday’s shooting, Zibolski said.

Wrigley said agencies are not aware of a danger to the public.

“If we were, we would absolutely be talking about that, but we are not,” he said. “If we had an imminent threat, an immediate danger of some kind to the public, people can be assured that we would be sharing that information. We don’t have that information right now, and if that were to change, we would change our communication posture.”

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said he hasn’t been given status updates on the investigation, including possible motive. The young ages of the officers involved in the shooting made the tragedy more upsetting, he said.

“It’s very hard,” he said, adding that the shooting is all the more unfathomable in the absence of any known motive. “It’s a horrible event. I’d like to know why.”

‘Put the pieces of the puzzle together’

Aside from names of the officers and suspect, few details have been released regarding the shooting.

“Down the road, we will know the whys,” Zibolski said Saturday, adding he is confident the FBI and BCI will “put the pieces of the puzzle together as to why this individual chose to do this.”

The Fargo Police Department is “not in a position to provide many details,” regarding the case, Zibolski said Saturday. Police were responding to a routine crash when Barakat shot at officers, he said.

“For no known reason at all, a violent gunman attacked our officers, firing multiple rounds, striking three of them,” Zibolski said.

Officers were called at 2:43 p.m. Friday to an injury crash on 25th Street near Ninth Avenue South, near the Avalon Events Center. About 24 minutes later, police reported shots were fired, according to a recording of dispatch calls obtained by WDAY.

“Officers down,” an officer says in the call. “Got an AR-(style rifle). It’s rapid fire.”

Officer Zachary Robinson, 31, shot and killed Barakat, police said. Robinson has been placed on administrative leave, per Fargo police policy. Zibolski credited Robinson with ending a threat and preventing future harm to others.

The two other officers, 22-year-old Tyler Hawes and 28-year-old Andrew Dotas, were critically injured in the shooting. Both were in the hospital Monday, with conditions listed as critical but stable, Schildberger said.

Karlee Koswick, a Boston-area native who recently moved to Fargo, also was hospitalized after being shot. She was in “good condition” as of Monday, Sanford spokesman Nathan Aamodt said.

Koswick’s father said she was driving one of the two vehicles involved in the crash.

The Fargo Police Department warned the public on social media shortly after the shooting to stay clear of the area but called it a “critical incident,” not a shooting. Residents were told to either evacuate the area or stay sheltered in place.

Fargo police did not say the incident was a shooting until nearly eight hours after it happened. They said an officer and the suspect died in the shooting, while two officers and a citizen were injured.

A spokesperson held a press conference Friday night but did not release information that wasn’t published on social media, nor did they take questions.

Police have not released information about the crash. The North Dakota Highway Patrol confirmed it was investigating the crash to determine a timeline of events, Capt. Bryan Niewind said. Troopers are waiting for the BCI to interview those involved in the crash before the Highway Patrol questions them, he said.

A crash report was not available Monday.

During the Saturday news conference, Zibolski said police didn’t think Barakat was involved in the crash.

“The investigation into that is still ongoing,” he said Monday in a statement to The Forum. “It does not appear that he was part of the collision, but again I would have to defer to the BCI and their investigative findings.”

Who was Mohamad Barakat?

Few details are known about Barakat. A background check did not reveal any serious criminal charges.

The Fargo Police Department doesn’t have any additional information on him, Zibolski said Saturday. Barakat had contact with police, but nothing “significant,” the chief said.

Barakat was issued a speeding ticket by the Fargo Police Department in November 2018 that warranted a $31 fine, according to the background check. That ticket indicated he was living in Fargo at the time.

The Fargo Police Department declined an open records request for any incident reports that mention Barakat. That includes police reports filed before the shooting because the BCI and FBI requested them, said Jean Syverson, records office manager for the Fargo Police Department.

“Until their case is closed or inactive, the information you requested cannot be released,” she said.

What is known is that Barakat lived at Bluemont Village Apartments, 2801 23rd Ave. S.

Fargo Police, FBI agents and the ATF searched his apartment after the shooting. The Red River Regional Bomb Squad also responded to the apartment complex on Friday.

Wrigley confirmed the bomb squad has been involved in the case, though he declined to say why that team was called to Barakat’s apartment complex.

The background check also listed 4255 Ninth Ave. Circle S. as a previous apartment for Barakat, the same address that was on the speeding ticket.

Neighbors in the two apartment complexes that Barakat lived in said they didn’t know what the man looked like. Managers in one apartment complex Barakat lived in refused to speak to The Forum.

On social media, there are no digital footprints that The Forum has discovered.

Forum reporters Robin Huebner, C.S. Hagen and Patrick Springer contributed to this report.]]>

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