ST. PAUL — The stepfather of a Maplewood teenager shot to death outside a Woodbury graduation party Saturday night, June 5, is accused of starting the gunfight that killed the boy.

Keith Dawson, 35, of St. Paul allegedly fired several shots at an SUV outside the party as he drove by, prompting the SUV’s occupants to return fire, according to a criminal complaint filed against him Monday, June 7, in Washington County District Court.

Dawson told investigators he is the stepfather of 14-year-old Demaris Hobbs-Ekdahl, who died in the shootout, Woodbury police said in a news release. Dawson faces four felony counts, including drive-by shooting, illegally possessing a firearm, and two second-degree assault charges.

“This tragic loss of a young person’s life weighs heavy on the community and on Woodbury Officers,” the police department’s news release said. “A chance encounter resulting in a dispute leading to tragedy is no way to celebrate a graduation. This incident does not define a neighborhood or its residents, or our community at large.”

Keith Dawson, 35, of St. Paul
Keith Dawson, 35, of St. Paul

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Woodbury police responded at about 10:45 p.m. Saturday to a residence on the 6100 block of Edgewood Avenue, where multiple 911 callers reported that someone had been shot.

When officers arrived, they found 20 to 30 people at the scene who were attending a nearby graduation party when the shooting took place. The witnesses said the shooting involved a white SUV, a dark-colored SUV and a Kia sedan, according to Woodbury police.

Police located the white SUV — a Chevrolet Tahoe driven by Dawson — nearby and pursued it to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, where officers learned Hobbs-Ekdahl was inside the vehicle with a gunshot wound, according to the criminal complaint against Dawson.

Hobbs-Ekdahl was taken inside the hospital for treatment, but he died of his injuries. Officers took Dawson into custody.

Dawson allegedly told investigators that Hobbs-Ekdahl had called him earlier that evening and said he and his brother “were getting robbed” at the graduation party by two people identified in court documents as X.H. and J.T.

Dawson met his stepsons a few blocks away and told the boys they needed to return to the party so X.H. and J.T. would “stop messing with them,” the criminal complaint against Dawson said. The boys and two friends followed in a Kia sedan as Dawson drove to the party alone in his Tahoe.

X.H. and J.T. were standing outside a dark SUV with a third person as Dawson drove up and fired several shots at them with a handgun, the complaint said. Someone in the group returned fire, striking Hobbs-Ekdahl in the back as he rode in the Kia sedan that was trailing Dawson’s vehicle.

Several houses in the area were also struck by gunfire, but residents were unharmed.

When Dawson learned Hobbs-Ekdahl had been shot, he transferred the boy into his vehicle and drove him to the hospital, tossing his gun out the window on the way, the criminal complaint said. Police later recovered the firearm.

St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Mary Divine contributed to this article.