Posted on October 10, 2013

Inspirational Moment Man, 27, Who Was Beaten Almost to Death by Five Teens Forgives His Attackers as He Slowly Recovers from Brain Injuries

Sara Malm et al., Daily Mail (London), October 10, 2013

A Minneapolis man who was beaten within an inch of his life has forgiven the five teens responsible for the shocking, unprovoked attack.

Ray Widstrand doesn’t remember the fateful night of August 4, however authorities say the then-26-year-old found himself in the middle of a terrifying gang confrontation on the streets near his St Paul apartment and was kicked, stomped on and left to die.

But Widstrand doesn’t believe the beating is a reflection of the community and said he wished the teens the best.

‘That was just a freak accident,’ Widstrand, who is now 27, told the Star Tribune. ‘It was just young kids lashing out. I was a young kid once. I lashed out.’

He added: ‘I’m indifferent towards them. I wish them the best. But I am recovering and I’ll be back soon enough, hopefully I can go back to work, back to my normal life, back to living on my own and back to business as usual.’

Five people, one adult and four juveniles, have been charged in the assault on Widstrand.

The jury trial for Issac Maiden, 19, who faces first-degree assault and aggravated robbery charges as well as two counts of gang-related crimes, will start Monday. The four juveniles face similar charges.

The inspirational cable programming assistant said he’d learned a lot from the harrowing experience, which left him in a wheelchair and unable to perform basic tasks like shaving or using the bathroom alone.

‘My dad was right. He said there are more builders than there are tearers down. …The world is a good place if you just give it a chance,” Widstrand told the Tribune from his room at the rehab center. He thanks his friends, family and the community for their support.

‘I have people praying for me. I have to go the extra mile,’ he said.

The young man is due to undergo more surgery in November, this time to have the blone flaps on his head put back into place. He’s hoping to be home by Christmas.

Earlier this month, soon after he began constructing sentences again following his severe brain injuries, Widstrand gave his first interview from his wheelchair at a fundraiser held in Minneapolis to help pay for his treatments.

Speaking slowly and haltingly, Widstrand told a local news station that he has no recollection of the night heartless youths robbed and beat him to the brink of death.

Ray Widstrand

Ray Widstrand

The 27-year-old was walking home in his neighborhood on St Paul’s East Side when he was attacked by a group of 30 to 50 juveniles and young adults.

He was hit in the head with a ‘can in a sock’, stomped on, had his pants ripped off him and was robbed. He was placed in a medically-induced coma when he was taken to hospital.

Wearing a helmet to protect his head, Widstrand spoke about the difficulties he has faced in the two months since the beating occurred. 

‘It’s been trying at times,’ he said.

‘But it’s also been a learning experience for me,’ Widstrand told KSTP.

‘I quit smoking since I’ve been in the hospital. I eat less junk food. I’m healthier, so that has been nice.’

Widstrand has already undergone two surgeries for brain swelling and skull fractures and will face a third in November.

He has been undergoing intensive rehabilitation at Courage Kenny Rehab Institute where he’s slowly re-learning basic skills like walking and speaking.

Widstrand told KSTP that he faces months of physical, occupational and speech therapy as he recovers from his serious brain injury.

Despite the hardships he has faced, Widstrand has been overwhelmed by the love and support of his family and community.

‘Seeing all the support–I just had a birthday last month, and it has been so cool, getting all the cards,’ said Widstrand, who turned 27 on August 31.

He will remain in hospital in the coming months, with a tentative release date of December 1.

‘They’re talking December first,’ said Widstrand’s father Peter Widstrand, who says he doesn’t know if his son will be able to move home.

‘Moving somewhere,’ Widstrand said. ‘Moving on to the next thing.’

Widstrand said he has no recollection of the night his life changed forever.

‘I didn’t even know I got beaten up till the next day,’ he said.

‘It was longer than the next day,’ said his father.

‘To me it seemed like the next day,’ Widstrand said.

He suffered ‘potentially fatal brain swelling’ and ‘permanent and protracted loss of brain function’ as a result of the beating.

Peter Widstrand told The Pioneer Press: ‘It seems every day we see some steps forward. Every day, I see something, whether it’s in his eyes or something he does.

‘[But] we’re still in the place where we don’t know if he’ll return to work or return home. We might not know for years. Progress can stop tomorrow. It might not stop two years from now.’

The young man had moved to an apartment in the Minnesota city two months before the attack and was working for a local community channel.

Speaking at a press conference in August, Peter Widstrand said his son had never ‘expressed any concerns’ about living on the East Side.

‘I can’t imagine why someone would do this to another person. Hopefully they will at least answer to that,’ Peter Widstrand added.

The large group was fighting on a street located mere blocks from the local police station and turned the violence on Widstrand when he tried to get past them, witnesses told police.

A local newspaper reported that the fight had started at a party nearby and a group of girls had taken it to the street after which the brawl escalated into a bust-up between local gangs.

‘An innocent man was walking down the street and brutally attacked by a group of youth,’ police spokesman Sergeant Paul Paulos, told Pioneer Press.

‘He was out for a walk and decided to go through this group and was assaulted and knocked unconscious.’

According to the police report, Widstrand was hit over the head with a ‘can in a sock’ which knocked him to the ground.

Witnesses reported seeing blood coming from his head after which a second man stomped on his head while a third removed Widstrand’s trousers and the group searched his pockets.

Police found Widstrand lying on the ground, bleeding from his nose and mouth, his pants removed and shirt torn, according to a criminal complaint filed by the Ramsey County attorney’s office.

Tips from witnesses led to five arrests: 19-year-old Maiden and four juveniles. Trials for the underage teens, two of whom are just 15 years old, are underway.

Maiden has been charged with first-degree assault, first-degree aggravated robbery and crime committed for the benefit of a gang.

‘To have this happen – it seems just – why?’ Widstrand’s mother Linda Widstrand told KSTC

‘It’s just, it seems unreal. It just doesn’t seem real.’

[Editor’s Note: An initial report of this attack is available here.]