Man purposely hunted down and killed diner in Bloomington restaurant before fleeing, charges say

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A man hunted down and killed a diner in a Bloomington restaurant while others inside had tried in vain to keep the gunman from shooting, according to police and charges filed Monday.

Aaron Le, 47, was charged in Hennepin County District Court with second-degree intentional murder and second-degree intentional attempted murder in connection with the gunfire Wednesday inside Cô Tu’ at 8907 Penn Av. that killed a 49-year-old man and wounded a 25-year-old server.

Le, who officials have said works in the Dallas area and has lived in Lakeville, was captured by law enforcement in Oklahoma about 12:30 a.m. Thursday and booked into the Kay County jail, where he remains pending his return to Minnesota.

The chargesexplained that investigators learned that the restaurant patron who was shot “had been seeing a woman who was recently divorced [from Le] and that Le was jealous.”

But Police Chief Booker Hodges said at a news conference Monday afternoon that “the ex-wife has been insistent that she has never had a relationship with the victim … and we don’t have any reason not to believe her at this point.”

Officials have yet to identify the man who was shot other than to call him “T.P.” in the criminal complaint. The server’s identity also has not been released.

In August, the charges continued, the FBI received a report about a “contract to kill” phone call involving Le, T.P. and the woman. However, Hodges said Le was the person who phoned in that T.P. and his ex-wife had a plot to kill him, which was unfounded. The chief added that Le, his former wife and T.P. all went to the same college.

Police said Le displayed a weapon upon entering the restaurant the first time, but a handful of patrons pushed him back outside twice. Le was able to get in on his third attempt and began shooting. He dropped one of two guns he had at the scene while tussling with people in the restaurant, and used a second gun to open fire, police said. The second gun has yet to be recovered, the chief said.

Hodges said Monday that the gunfire that struck both men came from a gun, which first malfunctioned, while in a zip-locked bag that Le fired while one person was on his back trying to subdue him.

“For people who shoot a lot,” the chief said, “they can understand how difficult that is to do.”

Hodges said he believes Le had the gun in a bag in order to keep his DNA off the weapon and to catch shell casings as they discharged from the firearm, rather than have them “be on the floor for us to retrieve.”

Three people and T.P. were among those in the restaurant who physically tried to keep Le from shooting, the chief said.

“Mr. Le, he could have killed everybody in that restaurant,” Hodges said. “It was obvious that he was there to go after one person, and they put their lives on the line trying to protect one person. And that is something that needs to be commended. I’m pretty sure they are going through their own trauma because of this.”

The police chief said he wants the charges upgraded to first-degree murder against Le, who plotted “to go and kill a man in cold blood.”

Mai Trinh, who runs the restaurant with her sister and is the managing chef, said Monday that the wounded server is her nephew and the man who died had been a regular customer since she began the business nearly five years ago.

Trinh told the Star Tribune that the restaurant has yet to resume operations, but “we will reopen for sure.”

“I can’t sleep at night, because I can’t stop thinking about what happened,” she said.

According to the criminal complaint, video from various sources revealed much of what happened shortly before the shooting, during and afterward as Le fled:

Le had on an “old man” Halloween mask as he walked up to T.P., who was sitting with another male, and drew a gun. Several people chased Le out of the restaurant.

After being forced out again, Le went inside a third time and found T.P. hiding behind a display case. Despite people trying to wrestle away the gun, Le shot T.P. several times.

Le got in a white van and drove off.

Police traced Le’s phone about four hours later in Iowa and as it traveled through Kansas and into Oklahoma, where he was stopped by law enforcement. The license plates had been taken off and found in the van, along with two body-armor vests and gloves.

Le was wearing bloodied clothing while he was being booked into jail.

The charges suggested that Le had an accomplice help locate T.P. that afternoon, but Hodges clarified Monday that this person had nothing to do with the shooting and was merely keeping tabs on the availability of seating inside the restaurant.

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