MENOMONIE, Wis. — A reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the man who beat a Saudi student to death along Main Street amid Halloween weekend revelry has grown to $20,000.
Residents of this northwestern Wisconsin community and employees of the University of Wisconsin-Stout began pooling their money Tuesday and quickly collected $15,000. The Council of American-Islamic Relations Minnesota Chapter added another $5,000 Wednesday though it's not part of the reward fund administered through the Community Foundation of Dunn County.
By early evening Wednesday, teams of Saudi and American students together fanned out across this city about 70 miles east of Minneapolis to post hundreds of fliers announcing the reward.
News of the death of Hussain Saeed Alnahdi, 24, of Buraydah, Saudi Arabia, from injuries he received around 2 a.m. CT Sunday outside a pizza parlor two blocks from campus quickly spread overseas via social media. Saudi students said they expected the reward fund to continue growing as news of it traveled to Saudi Arabia.
Police don't know the motive for the attack and haven't identified a suspect, Menomonie Police Chief Eric Atkinson said at a Wednesday news conference.
"We will not dismiss the possibility this is a hate crime" until the assailant — described only as a white male, about 6 feet tall — is arrested, he said.
The police chief extended his condolences to Alnahdi's family and friends, and called the death tragic and unnecessary.
"As we mourn, we cannot lose sight of the path of justice we must follow," he said. "We are respectfully asking the community to come forward with any information."
The campus with 9,600 students has a close-knit Saudi community of 142 students. While security has not been increased, campus police have encouraged students to report anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
Some anxious parents in Saudi Arabia have warned their kids to be careful and have gone as far as telling them to leave home only for class and keep their doors locked, student Omar Alkohmos said during the news conference.
Alkohmos was Alnahdi's first interpreter when the young man arrived on campus.
"There's no words to say," he told reporters, his voice emotional. "We are waiting for the police department to release some answers."
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations Minnesota Chapter was on campus Wednesday and spoke during the news conference in the campus Memorial Student Center.
"With the rise of Islamophobia, that rhetoric has created an unsafe environment for Muslims no matter where they are," Hussein said. At the same time, he considered it encouraging to see the community come together to emotionally support students and offer a reward for information leading to the arrest of the assailant.
"This is a critical time not only for Menomonie but also our nation," Hussein said.
A memorial service for Alnahdi is planned for at 5 p.m. Thursday in the amphitheater outside the student union building.
Friends and instructors have described Alnahdi as a bright, energetic young man who worked hard at his studies, smiled often and had many American friends, including four roommates from Wisconsin.
Alnahdi came to the U.S. and UW-Stout in August 2015, knowing only a few words of English. He quickly made friends — both American and Saudi.
He was enrolled in the English as a Second Language Institute and planned to study business administration once he finished that program.
Among the messages posted at a makeshift memorial of flowers and candles outside the pizza parlor where the beating occurred was a note with hearts drawn around the border.
"Dear Hussain," it said. "I didn't know you, but I cried for you. There are no words for what happened. I hope that you may find peace. Your are not forgotten."
Said another note: "This is NOT who we are! Rest in peace, Hussain."
UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer met Tuesday night with a group of 55 students, including close friends of Alnahdi, to discuss the campus memorial service and efforts to provide support. Many of Alnahdi's best friends are Americans, the chancellor said.