Updated: 01/04/2014 8:03 AM KSTP.com By: Cassie Hart
Photo: KSTP-TV/Steve Tellier
The body of another victim has been found after a fatal building explosion and fire in Minneapolis on New Year’s Day, bringing the death toll to two. Fourteen additional victims had been hospitalized.
The Hennepin County medical examiner's office identified the first victim as 57-year-old Ahmed Farah Ali. The cause of death is under investigation.
Demolition of the building is now complete and all victims who were in the building are believed to be accounted for, according to fire officials.
Fire crews responded to the report of the explosion around 8 a.m. Wednesday on the 500 block of Cedar Avenue.
Ali's body was found Thursday afternoon, and the second victim was found around 10 a.m. Friday in the Cedar Avenue structure. They have both been turned over to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office.
Hennepin County Medical Center officials said they had three patients in critical condition and five people were in satisfactory condition as of Friday evening. On Thursday there were six in satisfactory condition. Hospital officials would not confirm if a patient was released.
At least two other victims went to the University of Minnesota Medical Center-Fairview. One patient, who was in good condition with back pain Thursday, was released from the hospital Friday. Another patient who was in serious condition with broken bones has been upgraded to fair condition, according to hospital officials.
Robert Ball of Hennepin County Emergency Medical Services says the victims suffered from injuries ranging from burns to trauma associated with falling or jumping from windows.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are now involved in the investigation of the explosion.
It is fairly routine for the ATF to help in a case like this, especially because of the size of the incident, the fatalities, and the location of a nearby mosque.
The ATF has forensic experts that will assist local investigators in determining the cause of the blast and fire. Right now, investigators are leaning toward a natural gas problem but have not confirmed that yet.
If it is not a natural occurrence, or accident, the FBI is interested in knowing what people might be connected to the explosion and subsequent fire.
St. Paul Fire Department Investigator Jamie Novak tells 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, "It is a little bit unusual for the FBI to arrive at the scene of a fire, but given where this happened, so close to a mosque, it makes sense for them to investigate everything connected to it so they can rule out criminal activity."
"This blast has similar characteristics to a natural gas explosion, and I am sure that is where the investigation is centered right now," Novak said.
One high-level law enforcement official tells 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that the head of the FBI Office in Minnesota has contacted local authorities and told them that, right now, there does not appear to be any suspicious, or nefarious, behavior connected to the explosion and fire.
That same law enforcement official says the FBI is checking the backgrounds of the people who live in the apartments, the property owners, and others connected to those people to rule out the possibility of criminal intent. But, that same official says that is just a preliminary finding and things could change "in a day, a week or several weeks."
Help for Victims
As usual, we’re already seeing the generosity of Minnesotans who are ready to step up to help the victims. A mother and daughter from Mendota Heights came to the Brian Coyle Center with a donation of clothing.
The Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota also has a disaster relief fund open Thursday to accept donations, and 100 percent of the donations will go to victims and families, according to organizers. Community members can donate at www.csc-mn.org.
The Brian Coyle Center was open for family and victims of the fire to reunite.