Early-morning burglars vandalize Elmen Center

Early-morning burglars vandalize Elmen Center
A window in front of the Elmen Center pool displays damage after the break-in on Sept. 9. Photo by Abbey Stegenga. 

Members of the Vikings swimming and diving team met an unusual sight at their 7 a.m. practice on Saturday, Sept. 9. at the Elmen Center.

Weights, the life-guard chair and other gear rested at the bottom of the pool. Shattered glass from the first-floor viewing window sat scattered across the pool deck.

Around 1:20 a.m. on Sept. 9, four male subjects wearing face masks entered the Elmen Center. In the next 30 minutes, the Elmen Center fell victim to theft, vandalism and damage.

“I think it’s more of an overwhelming thing when you see all of the brand new equipment that has just been bought just in the pool,” Logan Gustafson, a sophomore swimmer, said. “You don’t know what’s ruined. It almost feels like an attack on your home.”

Rick Tupper, associate vice president of Campus Safety and logistics, said the investigation is still ongoing and the Sioux Falls Police Department has assigned a detective to the case.

According to Recreational Services Director Mark Hecht, staff locked up the Elmen Center near 11:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 8.

“There was essentially no one in the building by the time these people had gained entry,” Hecht said.

Tupper said the university does not know how the men gained access into the building, as there was no card-swipe or forced entry noted during that time period.

In the days following the incident, Campus Safety and the Sioux Falls Police Department have been reviewing footage from the cameras located in the Elmen Center. Based on the video footage, Tupper said the four subjects went through the whole building but did not cause damage in every area.

Footage shows two of the individuals tipping over chairs near the Weight Room and going through drawers of the building’s front desk. They also used a black marker to draw on walls and mirrors.

Hecht’s computer monitor bore gray splotches, which he said likely resulted from them spraying WD-40 or something similar on it.

“[In] a couple of the community locker rooms, things were written or graffiti was put up that is not exactly becoming.” Andrew Makepeace, the head coach of the men's and women's swimming and diving teams, said.

However, Tupper said damage resulting from more malicious actions occurred in the pool area.

Gustafson said when he first arrived at the Elmen Center around 6:40 a.m., nothing appeared unordinary. As he walked by a group of his teammates, they told him the pool was a mess.

“I was like, ‘OK, funny joke,’” Gustafson said. “It was so early that I wasn’t paying attention to anything, and I get to the pool and I just see everything — and when I mean everything, like pretty much everything on the pool deck that you can think of.”

The subjects threw a padlock through the lower right side of the pool’s viewing window, shattering glass onto the floor. Tupper said the Elmen Center has since put in a request for a window replacement.

According to Gustafson, medicine balls, kettlebells, gear bags, caps and lane-line reels had been thrown into the pool in addition to the lifeguard chair and a bench.

Senior swimmer Anna Tindall said she believed two Theraguns, a muscle-massaging device, were ruined after being dumped into the pool. According to Therabody, the massagers range from $199 to $999.

“I would say a lot of the equipment that was in the pool was pretty new. Fortunately, a lot of this stuff is actually very waterproof, or I’d say water resistant,” Makepeace said.

The swimming and diving team practiced Monday, Sept. 11 and used the equipment that had been submerged. Tindall said some water remained in the medicine balls, but everything seemed to work fine.

About two hours after first arriving at the Elmen Center on the morning of the incident, members from the swimming and diving team hauled the items out of the pool. Tupper said the team returned the pool area to near its original state in about 30 minutes.

“It’s pretty cool to see your whole team show up,” Gustafson said. “And when something like that happens, I mean we all rise together and it’s ‘Let’s put things back together.’”

The custodial staff and Recreational Services staff also assisted with cleaning up the damage inside the building, Hecht said.

Makepeace was one of the first people to notice something was off that Saturday morning when he arrived at his office around 6:30 a.m.

“When I walked in, I noticed nothing really too peculiar other than the fact that there was a mess outside of my office where normally things are pretty tidy,” Makepeace said.

A vase that held pens had been picked up and smashed on the floor, according to Tupper.

When Makepeace stepped into his office, which was locked the night before, he found things strewn about. He then alerted Campus Safety, who responded to the incident at 6:58 a.m. and notified the police.

“Campus Safety did an awesome job. I think they’re the ones who need to be commended the most because they were really thorough and they got the police department involved when it was necessary,” Makepeace said.

Several of Makepeace’s personal items were stolen from his office.

“But for me, I guess at the end of the day, I’m just glad that it’s just stuff. There’s value to it, obviously, whether they’re personal items or not. At the end of the day, it’s just things that can be replaced, so we’re fortunate there that it wasn’t something worse,” Makepeace said.

Tupper said Campus Safety and athletics staff are still collecting the amount of damage that was done and items that were stolen. Currently, Tupper said he does not have a financial estimate of the damages incurred.

“The athletic department is just kind of waiting to make sure that stuff can dry out and it’s not damaged forever, so they’re still trying to figure out what might be damaged,” Tupper said.

Campus Safety does not currently know the identity of the four male subjects.

“We would certainly hope it’s not our students that did it. But we can’t say that it’s not,” Tupper said.

According to Tupper, Sioux Falls and the campus neighborhood have seen people steal items from vehicles and even steal a car this fall. Campus Safety officers are always on the lookout for people roaming campus, he said.

“The tough part is we’re a very open, free campus, so people walk our campus all the time,” Tupper said.

While Campus Safety does not know what motivations the four subjects had, Tupper said he thinks at least some planning went into the break-in because the individuals knew cameras were in the building and covered their faces.

“In a lot of ways, burglary, even when there’s not a lot of theft or damage, you feel violated. This is a sacred, safe place for us, and now somebody had kind of tarnished that,” Tupper said. “So I think everybody has that emotion that, well, we want to know who and why. And those are the two questions that are sometimes hard to answer.”

As campus works to return to normalcy, Tupper said Campus Safety hopes to place more cameras but acknowledges that not everything is preventable.

“I could put an officer in every building, and that’s not going to stop things from happening,” Tupper said. “We review placement of cameras, making sure doors are being secured, who’s checking them. Cameras are great, but they don’t necessarily stop things. They might help us resolve them.”

According to Tupper, the subjects’ actions at the Elmen Center constitute a felony burglary and intentional damage of property, meaning it would be in their best interest to reach out to Campus Safety or the police as soon as possible.

The city also has a Crime Stoppers hotline, where people can leave information anonymously.

“When you see somebody around that looks like maybe they shouldn’t be there, let Campus Safety know. I don’t know if that has anything at all to do in regard to this situation, but that’s just one of those that’s always wise,” Hecht said.