Fargo officer killed in ambush remembered as ‘brave young man’

Jul 21, 2023, 9:06 PM | Updated: Jul 22, 2023, 2:22 pm

Flowers and flags are placed at the memorial for fallen Fargo Police Officer Jake Wallin in Fargo, ...

Flowers and flags are placed at the memorial for fallen Fargo Police Officer Jake Wallin in Fargo, N.D., on Friday, July 21, 2023. The man who shot three Fargo police officers and a civilian, killing one of the officers before an officer killed him, searched the internet for terms including “explosive ammo” and “kill fast,” as well as for what crowded area events might be happening in and around North Dakota's largest city, authorities said Friday. (AP Photo/Jack Dura)

(AP Photo/Jack Dura)

Jake Wallin was once a small boy who sought comfort in the arms of family, terrified of fireworks that lit up the sky. On Saturday, the Fargo police officer was remembered for growing up to be a military veteran and dedicated officer whose “final act of valor” was staring down the face of a man intent on bloodshed.

Wallin, 23, was killed July 14 when a man armed with 1,800 rounds of ammunition, multiple guns and explosives ambushed officers responding to a routine traffic crash. Two other officers and a civilian were wounded before a fourth officer returned fire, killing gunman Mohamad Barakat. Police said the actions of the fourth officer likely spared the city a bigger, bloodier attack.

Wallin, who had been sworn in as a Fargo police officer in April and was still in field training, was cremated in his uniform. On Saturday, the Fargo Police Department escorted his cremains to Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, for his funeral service, which was attended by loved ones, dignitaries and law enforcement agencies from across the country.

The police procession of 10 squad cars and three buses carrying department employees left Fargo early Saturday for Pequot Lakes. Dozens of people were at the memorial honoring Wallin at the site of the shooting as the procession went past, KFGO reported.

Wallin previously served in the Minnesota Army National Guard and was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq from November 2020 to July 2021, according to a spokesperson for the Minnesota National Guard.

He received final military honors at a private interment.

“He served his country, came back here and wanted nothing more but to serve in a position with purpose and meaning — his exact words — and he did that,” Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski said at a media briefing after the shooting.

Zibolski on Saturday recounted Wallin’s impressive quality as a candidate in his officer interview last fall, how he excelled in the police academy, and strived for a job with meaning and purpose.

The chief shared that body-camera footage of the shooting showed Wallin “hurried to create distance, intuitively” after his fellow officers were hit, pulled his gun out and was taking aim at the gunman when he was fatally struck.

“His final act of valor was to selflessly face the shooter and attempt to neutralize him to save others,” Zibolski said. “His actions were valorous and exemplify the highest standards of the policing profession.”

Aunt Jodi Wallin recounted her nephew as “the little boy I adored who grew into the young man I admired and was oh so proud of.”

Wallin had recently purchased a house for himself and his fiancée, and “was so proud of becoming a new homeowner that he ran right out and bought himself a lawnmower and mowed his new lawn,” his aunt said.

“I remember him as a small boy with his little arms wrapped so tightly around my neck, burying his face into me to try to avoid the fireworks that he hated so much at that age,” she said. “From that timid, small boy, he grew to be a driven, ambitious, brave young man.”

Chaplain Jordan Helming, who served with Wallin in Iraq, recalled his dedication as a soldier and his positive personality amid a changing mission as well as restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Jake could see the big picture in life, and he realized that it took long, disciplined, steady efforts to get you to the top of the mountain,” Helming said.

Wallin’s parents received two Fargo police awards and the Minnesota Distinguished Service Medal in honor of their son at the service.

Law enforcement agencies from other states attended Wallin’s funeral. A caravan including Sioux Falls police and South Dakota Highway Patrol left Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Friday to make the five-and-a-half hour trip for the funeral, KELO-TV reported.

Dignitaries at the funeral service included Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

A public memorial service is planned for Wednesday in Fargo. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum will attend and give remarks, his spokesman said.

On Friday, North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley provided more details about the attack, which also wounded Officers Andrew Dotas and Tyler Hawes and bystander Karlee Koswick, who had been involved in the crash.

Barakat was a Syrian national who came to the U.S. on an asylum request in 2012 and became a U.S. citizen in 2019, Wrigley said.

Over the past five years, he had searched the internet for terms including “kill fast,” “explosive ammo,” “incendiary rounds,” and “mass shooting events,” Wrigley said.

Perhaps the most chilling search was for “area events where there are crowds,” which on July 13 brought up a news article with the headline, “Thousands enjoy first day of Downtown Fargo Street Fair.” On the day of the attack, the downtown fair was in its second day and was less than 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the crash scene.

Barakat also searched for information on the Red River Valley Fair, which was a 6-mile (10-kilometer) drive from the scene, the attorney general said.

Wrigley said Barakat had an “obvious motive to kill” and was driven by hate, but it was not directed toward any particular group — including the police.

Evidence suggests instead that Barakat came upon the crash by “happenstance” and his ensuing ambush was a diversion from his much bigger intended target, Wrigley said.

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Fargo officer killed in ambush remembered as ‘brave young man’