Security Camera Helps Catch Vandals who Caused $1 Million in Damage

The investigation of last weekend's vandalism to UMD's James I. Swenson Science Building contributed to the resolution of two cases.

The Duluth boys -- ages 12, 13 and 14 -- who confessed to causing more than $1 million in damage during the past weekend also confessed to damaging the building last summer, Lt. Anne Peterson, director of campus police, said Friday.

In that incident, vandals dumped glue and punched holes in walls, causing relatively minor damage.

Insurance should cover the latest damage to the building. But it's possible the university system or its insurer may sue the juveniles' parents for damages.

"The legal issues have to be sifted out after we know the facts, and so far, we do not have the police reports," said University of Minnesota System general counsel Mark Rotenberg. "We're going to get the facts and then take the appropriate action to recover whatever we can legally."

Peterson is confident that the three boys were the only participants in Saturday's vandalism. While phone tips and the offer of a $20,000 reward helped find the trio, evidence found at the scene was more important.

"We had really clear shoe prints" left in fire-retardant chemicals from the fire extinguishers the vandals had discharged, Peterson said.

An 18-second clip shot by a surveillance camera also proved valuable. It showed two suspects climbing a stairwell in the building's teaching wing about 5:30 p.m. Saturday and gave police an indication of the suspects' size, Peterson said.

Police gathered other evidence as well -- evidence that Peterson declined to reveal because doing so "would indicate who the suspects are." Because the suspects are juveniles, officials cannot release their identities.

Police also collected fingerprints at the crime scene, but they were not critical to Wednesday's apprehension of the three suspects, Peterson said. Using other evidence found at the scene, police identified the three juveniles about 6 p.m. Wednesday. The boys confessed that evening and were released to the custody of their parents.

The matter will be turned over to the St. Louis County attorney's office, which will decide what charges to file. Charges could come as early as next week.

"Certainly, these defendants face some serious consequences for what they have done," Rotenberg said. "I have kids ranging from the age of 7 to 17, and it's hard to imagine how youngsters would want to go out and cause over a $1 million of damage as a joke."

Peterson declined to say how the vandals entered the building, saying that to do so "could compromise the building security even further, or other construction sites could be compromised."

The nearly completed Swenson building suffered extensive damage when vandals broke windows, doors and walls; discharged fire extinguishers; and flooded the building's 30,000-square-foot research wing. The water damage will require the replacement of instruments and electrical equipment, insulation, walls, flooring and cabinets.

While the damage shouldn't delay the opening of the building's teaching wing, it will delay the opening of the building's research wing by several months.