Hamster stolen, student art vandalized in Minneapolis school burglary

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Armed with cleaning supplies and plenty of help from faculty and staff at the Nawaynee Center School in Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood, a group of students made short work cleaning up after five people—two of them students at the school—vandalized several classrooms and even snatched the school’s pet hamster, Minerva, who has since been found safe. 

Also missing from the middle/high school, which primarily serves Native American youth, were several laptops and two vans the culprits used to leave the scene of the crime. They also trashed a series of student artwork and other items around the school.

It was a huge blow to the nonprofit school, which Executive Director Joe Rice says has struggled to keep its doors open on a month-to-month basis--though a GoFundMe page to help with the cleanup quickly exceeded its $10,000 goal.

“Knowing people care is one thing,” Rice said. “It’s another when people pick you up and ask if you are okay. That compassion has been great.”

Minneapolis Police identified the five juveniles they believe were involved in the incident, saying they were a mix of boys and girls, including two students at the school. 

Students were back in class this week, though many in the community said the vandalism left them feeling violated—as well as a newfound sense of purpose for the school’s mission of transforming indigenous communities through education.

“This isn’t something to bemoan or to get down about,” Rice said. “This is a challenge to respond to.”

According to the police report, officers were dispatched to Nawaynee Center on Sunday to check the building after a University of Minnesota police officer stopped a vehicle listed to the school, arresting two of the suspects who were inside.

When officers arrived at the school, the rear gate was open and a rear window was broken, apparent signs that someone had been inside. Officers were unable to enter because of unsafe conditions, though the report said “the size of the window was very small and broken glass was all over.”

As of Tuesday, police said everything that was stolen from the school had been recovered, save one van and the hamster, though the incident remains under investigation.