A bloody confrontation Saturday on the Apple River in Wisconsin that left a Stillwater teenager dead and four people with serious stab wounds apparently began with an argument over why a 52-year-old man was snorkeling near floating inner tubes carrying young women and girls.
Nicolae Miu, of Prior Lake, was charged Monday in St. Croix County Circuit Court with first-degree intentional homicide in the death of Isaac Schuman, a 17-year-old rising senior at Stillwater Area High School.
He also is charged with four counts of attempted first-degree intentional homicide.
According to the criminal complaint, Miu was part of a group floating on the river earlier in the day. He said he later returned to the river with snorkel gear to search for a cellphone in a waterproof floating case that a member of his party had lost.
However, witnesses said Miu was bothering a group of floating juveniles who then sought help from others floating nearby. The other group got between Miu and the juveniles and told him to leave, calling him a “child molester” and a “pedophile,” according to statements Miu and his wife gave to investigators.
Miu told police that he had drunk “a lot of beer” on Saturday, the complaint states. He said he told the group of angry tubers “that if he was a child molester, and they were children, they shouldn’t be drinking alcohol.”
The complaint describes some of the confrontation as captured in a witness’s cellphone video obtained by authorities. Someone can be heard in the video accusing Miu of “looking for little girls.”
The video shows “people on three sides of Nicolae at different distances,” the complaint states. “The video and elapsed time shows opportunity for Nicolae to leave the confrontation.”
Instead of leaving the area, Miu took out a folding pocketknife from his cargo shorts and held it at his side with the blade exposed, the video purportedly shows.
The camera briefly panned away from the scene just as it turned violent. When the camera panned back, it showed Miu falling back into the water, followed by a young woman slapping him and a male pushing him as Miu tried to get back up.
As the male approached to shove Miu a second time, Miu apparently stabbed him in the stomach.
Miu continued to make stabbing motions as more people approached him, according to the complaint.
As Miu finally ran away from the confrontation, “there was enough blood in the river that the water turned a red tint in places,” investigators wrote.
Miu, a mechanical engineer at Ritchie Engineering Co. in Minneapolis, spoke with an investigator at length and described his actions as “self-defense.”
Miu told police the incident started when someone in the group took his goggles and snorkel and threw them in the river, and someone else “grabbed his swim trunks and tried to pull his trunks down,” the complaint states.
Contrary to what the video appeared to show, Miu denied carrying a knife to the river. Instead, he claimed he had wrestled a knife away from one of the males who confronted him.
“Nic said he then took the knife from the individual who’d been in possession of it, and then started swinging it,” sheriff’s office Lt. Brandie Hart wrote in the complaint. “Nic told me he was swinging the knife all around him because, ‘I wanted out.’ Nic said people were coming at him, punching him, hitting him, and circling around him. Nic said that the group was really close to him and pushing him in the river. Nic said he didn’t know what, if anything, the knife came into contact with.”
Miu told the investigator he didn’t know what happened to the people who confronted him.
“I told Nic that four individuals sustained injuries and one person died,” according to the complaint. “Nic said, ‘Oh no’ and asked if the individuals sustained injuries because they were fighting with each other, and I said I didn’t know. Nic then put his head in his hands and said, ‘Oh my god.’ Nic said his whole life was ‘down the tubes.’ Nic said he was sorry for how this ended up.”
The confrontation took place around 3:45 p.m. Saturday, some 100 to 200 yards upstream from the Highway 35/64 bridge in Somerset.
Some 90 minutes later, authorities found Miu about a mile downstream from the stabbing site after he was spotted by witnesses, St. Croix County Sheriff Scott Knudson said.
A folding pocket knife with a black handle and silver blade was found in a closed position along the west bank of the river near where the incident took place, police said.
Miu made his first court appearance by videoconference Monday as one of the victims joined the stream from her hospital bed.
Prosecutors suggested a $500,000 bail, but Circuit Judge R. Michael Waterman set it at $1 million, citing the violent nature of the crime and the importance of public safety. His decision was met with a chorus of affirmation from those watching the hearing.
Miu faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted on any of the charges.
Four of the victims — a 24-year-old Burnsville woman, a 22-year-old Elk River man, two Luck, Wis., men ages 20 and 22 — were taken by air and ground ambulances to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Knudson said. Their injuries ranged from critical to serious, the sheriff said, citing a number of torso wounds.
Schuman, the teen who died, was an honor-roll student, his father, Scott, wrote in a Facebook post: “He was college bound and ran his own car and boat detailing business. He was an all-around amazing human being and was loved by everyone.”
In a statement shared with KARE-TV, Schuman was described as a “beloved son and brother” who “entered every room with a big smile, infectiously positive aura, and lifted everyone around him up.”
Schuman “was preparing to apply to several universities to pursue a degree in electrical engineering,” family members wrote. “He had an incredibly bright future ahead of him, and we are all heartbroken and devastated beyond words that his future has been tragically and senselessly cut short.”
A candlelight vigil for Schuman will be held at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Oak Glen Golf Course in Stillwater. The vigil will be on the course’s 14th green to honor his love of golf.
SAHS Principal Rob Bach emailed families Sunday informing them of the death.
“The death of a classmate, even for those who didn’t know them well, will impact each student differently, and all reactions need to be addressed with great care and support. We encourage you to talk with your children about this sad news and help them to process their feelings,” he wrote.
One of the victims, Ryhley Mattison, 24, of Burnsville, said she was tubing with friends when they came across a group asking for help.
“My friends and I went over to see what was going on, and there was an older man there being inappropriate,” Mattison wrote in a post on GoFundMe. “He was asked to leave, but wouldn’t. The older man ended up having a knife and stabbed a few friends of mine and myself included.”
Mattison said she had started the fundraiser on GoFundMe in order to help pay her medical bills.
Tubing activities at River’s Edge outfitters were suspended on Sunday but expected to resume soon.
“The River’s Edge family is saddened by this senseless act, and our hearts go out to those affected and their families and friends,” company officials wrote in a Facebook post, calling Saturday a “difficult and tragic day on the river.”
“The response to this incident was immediate and showed the very best of the community, its people, and the volunteers and professionals who serve us,” they wrote. “No amount of preparation can predict or plan for random acts of violence like this, but due to the concerted efforts of all involved, the situation was fully addressed and under control in a short time.”
Tubing on the Apple River, which flows through Polk and St. Croix counties in western Wisconsin before joining the St. Croix River on the Minnesota border, is a popular summertime pastime. However, officials have long struggled to limit some of the more disruptive behavior on the river, including public intoxication and nudity.
Claire Nelson contributed to this report.