The St. John's Prep community gathered for a prayer service Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, to support students with family members in Kenya attack. / firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo: Danielle Cintron, St. Cloud (Minn.) Times)
COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. -- Far away from theterrorist attack at a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, four students at a prep school in Minnesota who lost family members in the attack had the support of their classmates Monday.
Two students and an alumna from Kenya as well as a student from Ghana lost family members including an uncle and grandfather, close friends and neighbors in the attack at Westgate Mall.
On Monday, Kenyan officials said that security forces killed three Islamic extremists Monday and took nearly full control of the upscale shopping mall from a band of Somali terrorists who have killed at least 62 people.
STORY: 3 extremists killed in Kenya; mall nearly under control
STORY: Obama calls Kenya shopping mall attack 'terrible outrage'
Kenyan authorities said they are "very certain" that all but a few hostages taken two days ago in a shooting rampage by the al-Shabab group have been freed.
St. John's Preparatory School in Collegeville, Minn.,about 11 miles west of St. Cloud, Minn., conducted a prayer service Monday for students who lost family members and the students.
Principal Matt Reichert said the students and the school found out about the attack right away and they are keeping a close eye on the situation.
"It is difficult to find the right balance of keeping them in classes and having their normal routine or just letting them have the day to themselves," said Reichert.
Students were told to write letters to the girls expressing their sympathies and support instead of approaching them throughout the day and the coming week.
"That's really the nice thing about our school, we have 327 students who just want to hug the sisters and show them support," Reichert said.
In a letter to friends and families connected with the school, Reichert asked that recipients join the school in a moment of silence and prayer Monday morning. He said that alumni and family members around the world were all asked to join in the moment of silence.
"In any event such as this, but especially when it occurs so far away, it is easy to feel helpless or like there is little that can be done," the letter continued. "We can, however, support our students and their families with our prayers and our love."
STORY: Kenya attack: What we know
Federal law enforcement officials were in Minneapolis reviewing whether Americans were among the terrorists in Nairobi.
Minneapolis FBI spokesman Kyle Loven said Monday that authorities were "monitoring'' reports from the region of possible links. "We're not confirming or speculating on possible involvement at this time,'' Loven said.
The Minneapolis community is home to a large Somali community, whose young men have been targeted for recruitment by the terror group, al-Shabab, which has claimed responsibility for the attack.
In Nairobi, the battle continued in the mall Monday. Reichert said some other family members were missing or still unaccounted for.
Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard and Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY; Associated Press