Ray Widstrand still has his ‘Kool-Aid smile’

From left to right, St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith, Ray Widstrand, Assistant Chief Kathy Wuorinen, Linda Widstrand, Peter Widstrand, Joyce Edmondson, Hugh Edmondson and Alice Johnson. (Marjorie Otto/Review)

The April 22 award ceremony was the first time Tanikqwa Givins and Ray Widstrand met since the attack on August 4, 2013. (Marjorie Otto/Review)

Ray Widstrand does not remember the night he was brutally and randomly attacked on the East Side.

However, Tanikqwa Givins has vivid memories from the warm summer evening when she came to the aid of a young man being senselessly attacked by a group of teenagers.

At a St. Paul police award ceremony on April 22, there were many tears and hugs as the two met each other for the first time since that fateful night.

Widstrand and Givins were both awarded the Chief’s  Award for Valor, the highest award a resident of St. Paul can receive. 

On Aug. 4, 2013, a fight broke out between some teenage girls at a party. A group of up to 50 people surrounded and watched as one of the girls fell to the ground and was assaulted. Widstrand, who lived near where the fight occurred not far from the East Team police Station at the intersections of Payne and Minnehaha Avenues, was walking home and tried to help to woman, but was then brutally attacked and beaten himself. 

Givins was witnessing the fight as she was picking up family members and saw Widstrand unconscious and unable to fend for himself. She put herself on top of him and stayed with Widstrand until medics arrived. She sustained minor injuries. 

Initially, Widstrand was not expected to live or to return to a normal life. After many surgeries and years of rehabilitation, Widstrand defied doctors’ predictions and has returned to as normal a life as one can expect after such an incident.  A slight limp is the only thing that may tip one off to the beating.

“What you have done Ray, is amazing, to all of us,” said St. Paul police chief Tom Smith as he handed Widstrand his award and medal. 

Widstrand said that while he was excited and honored to get the award, he was glad that others, like Givins, were being recognized for their bravery.

“There is a lot of good inside of humanity, and I think that it’s important that we recognize that and not just focus on the dark, but see that there is a great wealth of light that is within humanity,” Widstrand said.

Smith told Givins as he handed her the award and medal, “Your selfless actions likely prevented Mr. Widstrand, who was gravely injured, from dying that evening.”

Widstrand said he has forgiven those who attacked him that night. “There’s a chance for everyone to be redeemed. And I’d hate to be a burden on that redemption process for them.” 

Two of the teenage boys who attacked him and left him for dead were convicted of felony assault charges and are serving time in prison.

He said he also does not believe the East Side is unsafe and does not have problems with returning to the neighborhood.

Widstrand said the next steps in his recovery include living on his own and working on getting his driver’s license back. He currently lives in New Brighton with his parents. 

“I’m pretty close but I still have a bit of a ways to go,” Widstrand said. 

He returned to his job last summer and was back to full time at Suburban Community Channels in White Bear Lake by the fall. Widstrand works as a master control operator and programming assistant. 

Alice Johnson, Widstrand’s sister said, “Ray is a strong individual, stronger than most,” and that his “strength, attitude and positivity are what helped him come back so strong.” 

Widstrand credits most of his recovery to his family, friends, and all of the medical professionals who have helped him in the past two plus years. 

When Givins and Widstrand first greeted each other after the ceremony, Givins told Widstrand, “I love your smile.”

Johnson said, “It was very emotional to finally meet Tanikqwa. Without her, Ray may not have survived. We are truly lucky that she was there to protect him. We are so honored to have finally met her and we plan to keep in touch for her for years and years to come.”

Givins said she didn’t give much thought and just felt she had to do it when she helped Widstrand that August night. “I just didn’t think anyone deserved that and with my mom being paralyzed, I just thought of her and threw myself on top of him.”

Her mother was paralyzed in a shooting incident years ago in Minneapolis. 

“I’m glad you’re still here,” Givins told Widstrand. 

She said she remembered seeing his picture in the news and how his smile really stood out to her. Givins said, “He’s still got his Kool-Aid smile on.” 


Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto.

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