3-year-old girl dies following stabbing at her Idaho birthday party

Hundreds of people are mourning at a Boise, Idaho, vigil honouring members of refugee families targeted in a stabbing at a child's party that left the three-year-old birthday girl dead and eight others injured.

The Monday evening gathering was held at City Hall and featured more than a dozen baskets filled with white flowers. A speaker asked for a moment of prayer.

The birthday girl died Monday, two days after a man invaded the celebration and stabbed nine people, authorities said.

Timmy Kinner, 30, is accused of attacking a group of children and the adults who tried to protect them at the party at an apartment complex in Boise that is home to many refugee families.

Word of the child's death came at Kinner's first court appearance, where Ada Country Magistrate Judge Russell Comstock told him that he was charged with first-degree murder and other felonies in connection with the Saturday night attack.

Comstock told Kinner he was "an extreme danger to the community" and ordered him held without bond.

Kinner is American. The victims are members of refugee families from Syria, Iraq and Ethiopia.

Boise Police Chief William Bones said the evidence does not suggest the attack was a hate crime. 

The suspect had recently stayed at the apartment complex but was asked to leave Friday over bad behaviour, Bones said.

Bones says Kinner has an extensive criminal history spanning multiple states. He is currently on misdemeanor probation in Utah, according to court records there.

Police arrested Timmy Kinner, 30, in connection with Saturday night's attack. (Ada County Sheriff's Office via Reuters)

Kinner appeared in court through closed-circuit video, a common practice for first appearances in Idaho. Wearing a tattered off-white sweatshirt with his arms shackled to his waist, Kinner told the judge he didn't understand the charges or proceedings. He also said he wanted to represent himself.

The judge ordered that he be appointed a public defender anyway.

"I can't explain the charges any more clearly than I just did," he told Kinner.

Police say one child injured in the attack has been released from the hospital.

7 victims remain in hospital

Authorities have not released the names of any of the victims, but on Monday said seven of them remain in the hospital, many with serious or critical injuries.

Three of the stabbing victims were adults, the others children: the three-year-old girl who died, two four-year-olds, a six-year-old, an eight-year-old and a 12-year-old.

If convicted, Kinner could be eligible for execution under Idaho law. Ada County Prosecutor Jan Bennetts said her office has not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty, saying those "high-level decisions" are made only after all the facts are in.

Fathi Mahamoud, 11, left, Esrom Habte, 12, centre, and Thado Aip describe the stabbing attack on nine residents of their apartment complex, mostly children. (Rebecca Boone/Associated Press)

Several families who had fled danger and violence overseas were enjoying the girl's birthday party when a man ran up and began chasing and stabbing the children before turning his knife on the adults who tried to intervene.

The victims included the birthday girl and five other children ranging in age from four to 12.

'An attack against those who are most vulnerable'

"The victims are some of the newest members of our community," Bones said Sunday. "This was an attack against those who are most vulnerable."

The chaos began shortly before 8:46 p.m. Saturday, when police received a report of a man with a knife. They arrived less than four minutes later to find victims lying in the street, in the parking lot and inside the complex.

Marisol Avelar adds a bouquet of white flowers to a growing pile during the vigil. (Darin Oswald/Associated Press)

Kinner was found and arrested a short distance away. Investigators later found a knife believed to be used in the attack in a nearby canal.

In addition to murder, Kinner faces several felony charges, including aggravated battery and injury to a child.

Bones said the motive remains under investigation.

Esrom Habte, 12, and Fathi Mahamoud, 11, were playing in the grass behind their apartment when the attack began. They ran for safety when they saw the suspect chasing people.

We saw a killer and didn't want to get stabbed.– Esrom Habte, 12

"We saw a killer and didn't want to get stabbed," Esrom said. "We saw him saying, like, bad words and stabbing a kid and a grown-up really hard and a lot of times."

The two ran into an apartment and hid in a closet with Esrom's two sisters and another child, and stayed inside until police told them it was safe to come out.

"I saw the police cleaning stuff, and then I came outside," Fathi said. He said the stabbing victims are his friends.

People listen to a speaker during the vigil. (Darin Oswald/Associated Press)

For some of the refugees living at the complex, the attack revived traumatic memories of the war and violence they had fled. The blood from the stabbings reminded Fathi's mother, Thado Aip, of the terror she left in Somalia, an interpreter said on Sunday.

Suspect new to area

The attack resulted in the most victims in a single incident in Boise Police Department history, Bones said.

"The crime scene, the faces of the parents struggling, the tears coming down their faces, the faces of the children in their hospital beds will be something that I carry with me for the rest of my life, as will every first responder that night," he said.

Police believe Kinner had only been in Boise for a short time when he met a resident of the complex, who offered him a temporary place to stay. She asked him to leave on Friday because of his behaviour.

"I believe her perception was, 'Here's a helping hand I can give in return for a helping hand I have been given,"' Bones said.

Members of refugee families from Syria, Iraq and Ethiopia were among the injured. (Meiying Wu/Idaho Statesman via Associated Press)

The woman was not among the victims, Bones said.

The apartment complex is just off of one of Boise's busier streets, separated from the traffic by one of the many irrigation canals that run through the city. On Sunday, colourful bouquets had been placed just outside the crime-scene tape.

Mayor says 'attack does not represent Boise'

Residents of the apartments and the rest of the community were "reeling" from the violence, Bones said, and the victims will need long-term community support.

"This isn't something that gets over in the days or weeks that follow … The level of the some of the injuries will be life-altering in a very negative way," Bones said.

On Twitter, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter condemned the stabbings.

Megan Schwab, who works with the International Rescue Committee in Boise, said the organization was working to provide temporary housing, counselling and other support to those affected by the attack.

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