Flash mobs attack Minneapolis

Flash Mobbed

Downtown Minneapolis beset by violent gangs

Pieter's mother explains over the phone that her son is resting. Pieter, whose last name is being withheld at his family's request, is recovering from a brain injury suffered when he was attacked by a group of 20 to 30 young people in downtown Minneapolis shortly after 11 p.m. on St. Patrick's Day.

It's a story that has unfolded disturbingly often recently: Since the start of February, "flash mobs" have struck with violence in downtown Minneapolis six times. Three of the attacks have resulted in injuries; Pieter's are by far the most severe. After he was attacked, doctors at HCMC struggled to contain swelling in his brain. The possibility of Pieter needing open-brain surgery hung over the family until the next morning, when doctors finally concluded it wouldn't be necessary. Pieter, 27, is now in the early stages of a slow recovery, but it's too early to know whether he'll ever bounce back completely.

Pieter and his 23-year-old nephew were downtown to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. They were hanging out at Kieran's, and decided to head back to their hotel room on the other side of downtown around 11. While walking, Pieter and his nephew were "blindsided" by "20 to 30 juveniles."

Grace said a Wells Fargo security guard saw part of the incident and later told police that the mob repeatedly kicked Pieter while he lay on the ground helplessly. When the beating finally ceased, Pieter was left with a bloody face, no short-term memory, and significant brain injuries.

Pieter worked as a visual artist and graphic designer before the attack. He's home from the hospital now and staying with his mother, Grace. As he couldn't do in the hours immediately following the beatdown, he now remembers his name and is regaining some mobility. Yet he can't drive or go outside by himself, and his brain is still swollen.

As for the assailants? Both Pieter and his nephew have said the attack commenced so unexpectedly, they really can't remember anything about the young people who beat them mercilessly. "It happened so fast [Pieter] can't remember anything about them," Grace said.

A surveillance camera caught the incident and that tape is now in the custody of Minneapolis police, but no arrests have been made.

Sgt. Steve McCarty of the Minneapolis Police Department said investigators are looking into possible connections between the string of incidents that has downtown Minneapolis on edge. Meanwhile, Pieter faces a long recovery from devastating injuries. —Aaron Rupar

Traffic Suicides

On a mid-November morning last year, as the sun was still coming up, a woman wearing a long, dark jacket wandered onto Interstate 94.

It was a horrifying sight to drivers on their commute to work, many of whom had to veer quickly out of the way to avoid hitting her.

"Everyone was kind of swerving a little bit and then getting back in their lanes," driver Stephen Feldman told us in an interview after the incident. "You try to look back but you can't really see anything because it's chaos."

Then the woman lay down, and was killed by oncoming traffic.

It was a chilling incident. Not only was a woman dead, but an innocent driver had killed her. Unfortunately, similar apparent suicides play out on Minnesota highways a few times every year, says Lt. Eric Roeske, spokesman for the State Patrol.

"It's most difficult on the scene for the person who hit them," says Roeske. "They don't know what to do. They're not guilty of a crime or anything. You just try to help them the best you can, and send them on their way."

Recently, it's been even more common. Including the tragedy in November, the State Patrol has seen at least five similar incidents in as many months.

"It has been happening more frequently," Roeske says.

There is no definitive answer as to why. Experts say that suicide by traffic is generally uncommon, though it shares similarities with other forms of suicide, such as lying in front of a train, or suicide by cop.

"I don't pretend to understand why it is that someone would choose to do this," says Eric Caine, chair of the University of Rochester's psychiatry department. "I suspect that the moment they're doing it, they're not thinking of other people."

If there is a connection between these tragedies, it could be what's known as the "Contagion Effect," says Yeates Conwell, who also studies suicide prevention at Rochester. Because they often shut down traffic on major highways, some of these incidents have received prominent media attention from news outlets around the Twin Cities, including City Pages.

If you're having suicidal thoughts, we strongly encourage you to call the The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number, 1-800-273-TALK. —Andy Mannix

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