Suspect from America's Most Wanted found at library in HastingsUpdated
Few people in Hastings live closer to Pleasant Hill Library in Hastings than Alan Gaylor and his family. With the library literally across the street from their residence, his sons spend much of their free time at the library, and Saturday was no different. But in the afternoon, as his oldest son left the library, he noticed something he’d never seen before. Police officers. And lots of them. The officers were there to take a fugitive into custody and, within minutes, they’d done just that.
By: Chad Richardson, The Hastings Star-Gazette
Few people in Hastings live closer to Pleasant Hill Library in Hastings than Alan Gaylor and his family. With the library literally across the street from their residence, his sons spend much of their free time at the library, and Saturday was no different.
But in the afternoon, as his oldest son left the library, he noticed something he’d never seen before. Police officers. And lots of them.
The officers were there to take a fugitive into custody and, within minutes, they’d done just that.
Hastings Police Department officers, members of the Dakota County Sheriff’s office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation all converged on the library here to arrest Abraham Jackson Mpaka, who was wanted in Florida for stabbing his girlfriend to death while she watched television.
Mpaka had been living in Hastings for “several months” according to Hastings Chief of Police Paul Schnell. Ironically, Mpaka was living on East Fifth Street, just blocks away from the police station.
Mpaka had been featured on the popular television program America’s Most Wanted three times. It was that program that ultimately led to his capture.
An area resident was browsing the internet Saturday and saw Mpaka’s photo on the America’s Most Wanted website. She was surprised at how closely he resembled her friend’s boyfriend. She called the program’s tip line, which eventually put her in touch with a detective in Miami. That detective got on the phone with the FBI in Minneapolis and several members of the FBI got on the road to Hastings. They called the Hastings Police Department en route and told the department that they were headed to a home on East Sixth Street in an attempt to apprehend this man. The HPD got to work on their records and concluded the FBI was one block off on its address. The right house, they said, was on East Fifth Street.
Agents and officers went to the residence, but Mpaka had left. Contact was made with a woman at the residence, who said Mpaka had taken a van and driven to SuperAmerica. Agents and officers drove there and couldn’t find the van. Acting on information from a tip that Mpaka liked spending time at libraries to gain computer access, Hastings Police Officer Don Farrington drove past the library and saw the van. He alerted the FBI and within minutes, a perimeter was established.
Hastings Police Officer Dan Tollefson and three to four FBI agents entered the library and found Mpaka at a computer. They confronted him and he initially denied being the man they were looking for.
When presented with a photograph and other information regarding his real identity, Mpaka admitted it was him. He was handcuffed and taken to a waiting squad car. He was initially transported to the Hastings Police Department, then later was sent to the Dakota County Jail, where he awaits extradition to Florida.
“I felt incredibly proud of our officers,” Schnell said. “Things can turn out like this, but they can often turn into being a bust — where you may get tips and information and they just don’t pan out. The officers, they didn’t take that kind of a ‘probably-not’ attitude. They took it seriously. They worked really closely in concert with the FBI agents who were down here. I was really proud of their efforts.”
Mpaka and Hastings
When, exactly, Mpaka moved to Hastings is unclear. Schnell said he had lived here “several months” and was living with a girlfriend.
Once Schnell and the department learned that he had been here, they looked into recent cases that would have fit his criminal past, and they have found nothing. They don’t believe he had been employed here. He was living under the name of Larry Holmes.
Mpaka frequented the library in Hastings to use the computers, but beyond that, what he did here to occupy his time is thus far unclear.
Schnell was surprised that this wanted man was living just blocks from the police department, but he wasn’t surprised that the man came to Hastings and tried to just fit in.
“One of the things we need to recognize is that whether it’s in Hastings, or even communities far smaller than this, the reality is the potential for people who represent a risk is everywhere,” he said.
Schnell is thankful that from everything they know thus far, Mpaka didn’t reoffend while he was in Hastings.
“The difficult thing about things like this is you never know what the capability of someone like this is,” Schnell said. “We aren’t aware of what exactly was behind (the charges in Florida) but, obviously, the fact that someone would do that does and should create concern.”
One of the things Schnell has spoken a lot about since becoming the Hastings chief in July was the public’s role in law enforcement. This case exemplifies that, he said.
“This speaks to the importance of engaging people as much as you possibly can in terms of being aware of their surroundings and being aware of threats or risks,” he said.
When Gaylor’s son returned home from the library, he told his father he saw police officers all over the place at the library. Gaylor looked outside and saw squad cars had blocked the entrance to his townhome complex and they had the library surrounded.
“They had the whole place surrounded,” Gaylor said. “I knew right then there was something serious going on.”
Gaylor rushed downstairs and went outside to observe.
“I saw a lot of the patrol officers had rifles around their shoulders and they were standing outside the library congratulating one another,” Gaylor said. “They had put the guy in the car and were shaking hands and giving each other high fives.”
Gaylor said it was unfortunate that the ordeal took place at the library.
“The kids in the neighborhood spend a great amount of time on the computers,” he said. “The staff there is just excellent. It’s unfortunate that it happened there. It’s one of the safest places there is.”
Gaylor didn’t know who exactly the police had arrested until a friend called that night.
“My kids were over there on the computers right next to the guy,” he said in disbelief. “You think stuff like this happens in the big cities. You don’t think it’s going to happen to you, or by you, but you need to be vigilant. Thank goodness there’s people who are aware of their surroundings.”
Gaylor praised the work done by all the law enforcement officials.
“The police department, you have to take your hats off to them for stepping up in these situations and handling them like they do,” he said. “They do a phenomenal job. They had it all under control.”
Taking down a suspect who has been on the loose for two years at a public library wasn’t a decision the officers took lightly, Schnell said.
“You have to anticipate and address the safety issues,” he said. “Nobody knows to what extremes someone will take to avoid apprehensions. It can be a very dangerous and risky time. At the same time, there was no indication he would be able to be tipped off, or know that officers were right on his heels. The benefit that agents and officers had was the presumption that he would be surprised by this.”
Mpaka was definitely surprised and was arrested without incident.
Library branch manager Allen Cotter wasn’t at the library on Saturday, but has been briefed by staff members since the incident.
“They were in and out of here,” he said. “It took just a few minutes. There was no disruption of service or anything. They came in, they did what they had to do and they left. After they left, things returned to business as usual.
“People’s curiousity was piqued because it was America’s Most Wanted and all that, but it was pretty much a non-event here.”
Cotter, too, praised the work by the officers involved.
“Kudos to the HPD,” he said. “They were very efficient. Very professional. They did what they had to do and they did it quickly and professionally. They’re great.”