Willmar, Minn., police chief asks for civility, information related to flag burning incidents
WILLMAR -- Police are investigating two incidents of someone burning a U.S. flag during the early morning hours Saturday in Willmar.
Willmar Police Chief David Wyffels said there is no danger to the public, and the matter is being investigated as arson and criminal damage to property. Multiple young males are believed involved, according to surveillance video footage.
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Wyffels said there are two confirmed incidents, at Kitchen Fair, along the 300 block of Fifth Street Southwest, and at the Midas Auto station, along the 700 block of Litchfield Avenue Southwest.
The incidents are believed to be connected and happened within a close time proximity, Wyffels said in a news release. Police have video footage of one of the incidents recorded just after 1 a.m. Saturday.
The incidents were reported to police Saturday morning as the owners and managers of the businesses discovered the damage.
Jesse Garcia, manager at Midas, discovered the damage around 7:30 a.m. and then called police.
"It was sad to see that someone would do this," Garcia said. "It was a total lack of respect for the flag and our country."
In his news release and in an interview Monday morning with the Tribune, Wyffels stressed that community response and citizen statements received by police accusing individuals from the Somali community are unfounded and "only cause additional speculation, resentment and animosity within the community at large," he said.
The video footage evidence, which is being reviewed by police investigators, shows otherwise, Wyffels said. The footage shows that multiple young males are involved.
Wyffels also stressed that while the acts are disconcerting, there is nothing in either incident that raises the crime to a level of terrorism. There is no evidence that either incident represents a bias offense, and nothing that shows the incidents are connected to any larger, subversive effort.
Neither act represents any danger to the public, Wyffels said. The charges relating to these crimes include arson and criminal damage to property, both of which are being investigated and pursued.
Anyone with information that might assist in resolving these crimes is asked to contact the Willmar Police Department at 320-235-2244.
Tribune editor Kelly Boldan contributed to this report.