Friends and co-workers honor the life of a St. Paul smoke shop employee who was fatally shot Thursday

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With candles and prayers, friends, customers and fellow employees paid tribute to smoke shop employee Abdul Arif.  

“He was my friend, he helped me every time I came up to the store,” recalls Linda Jones, a customer. “He just did a lot for other people. He was a very nice person. He was never in the wrong.”

St. Paul Police say around 3:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon, officers were called to Stevens Street and Stryker Avenue, responding to a call of a person shot.

“I heard the squad cars,” declares Roxie Knaeble, who’s worked at the shop for about a year. “And when I heard the sirens stop so quick, I knew it was my job, I just knew it was.”

Knaeble, who lives nearby, rushed over.

She learned Arif, 48-year-old father of three, had been shot.

Police say he later died of his wounds at Regions Hospital.  

“All I can tell you is my best friend, my co-worker is gone, for no reason at all,” Knaeble says. “I mean, this guy is so cool, he was like every single day, you never saw him without a smile on his face, never.”

Authorities have not released a motive for the shooting, but St. Paul Police tweeted Saturday that they have arrested a suspect.

Elias Kareem Hany-Aly, 21, was booked Friday on suspicion of murder, but has not been formally charged.

“This is a tragedy for our city,” Alyssa Arcand, a St. Paul Police spokesperson, told reporters. “We feel our community’s pain and we are part of the city.”

Police say this is a continuing investigation and that officers are combing over evidence, including surveillance video.

Arif’s co-workers confirm the shop is equipped with security cameras, but add they typically also take precautions.

“I’d always watch my back, and watch their backs,” explains Scott Roth, an employee. “You never know, a lot of shady people out there. We just need to put the guns away.”

A private gathering is being planned for Sunday to honor Arif’s life.

Knaeble says the shop will remain closed for a week.

She appealed for anyone with information to reach out to the police.  

“I’m not judging you, but you need to come forward,” Knaeble declared. “We are not going to let these people stop us. This is our neighborhood, and we’re going to fight to keep it that way.”

But Saturday night was a time to honor a friend whose life was cut short.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Jones says. “This man did all he could for everybody around this neighborhood. He was nice to everybody. This didn’t have to happen.”