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Two teens held for vandalising Minnesota temple

May 24, 2006 18:58 IST

Two 19-year-olds were arrested May 10 and charged with vandalising a partially completed Hindu temple in Maple Grove, MN, on April 5.

Maple Grove Police arrested local resident Paul Gus Spakousky and Tyler William Tuomie of Andover, MN, and charged them with first-degree criminal damage to property and third-degree burglary, both felonies.

The two spent a few days in Hennepin County Jail after their arrest and were later released on a bond of $20,000 each, according to a spokesperson for the police department.

Several of the deities were damaged in the attack, forcing the organisers to postpone the scheduled June 4 inauguration of the 43,000 square feet temple built at a cost of $9 million (about Rs 40 crore).

The Kumbhabhishekam (consecration) is currently scheduled for June 29 to July 2.

"We are very relieved to have apprehended the perpetrators in this vandalism case. With information from the community and some good, hard and solid police work, they will have to face the consequences of their actions," Mona Dohman, Maple Grove police chief, told rediff India Abroad.

The vandals damaged walls, windows and deities; the loss is estimated at about $200,000 (about Rs 90 lakhs). Following the incident, the Hindu Society of Minnesota had announced a $10,000 (about Rs 4.5 lakhs) reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the incident.

'We are thankful to the Maple Grove police department, a few active temple volunteers and surrounding community for their expeditious handling of this matter and their continued support. We hope this is the first step in healing our devastated community. We have suffered a great deal emotionally and financially because of this terrible act of vandalism and ignorance,' temple officials said in a statement on its website. 

"Both suspects are adults — 19 years of age," noted Chief Dohman, while declining to reveal any details about their backgrounds or families.

As for a possible motive, the spokesperson said it seemed they (the suspects) thought it as something funny. "Boys being boys, (this is) nothing surprising," he said.

In the chargesheet the police said a friend of Spakousky and Toumie informed the police about the defendants involvement on May 9. The friend allegedly told the police that after reading news reports about the vandalism, he spoke to them over phone and that the duo admitted their involvement in the vandalism as well as setting a portable toilet on fire a few blocks away.

Five days after the event, both admitted their role in the crimes in the presence of a few other friends, the chargesheet noted. Toumie drove a white pickup truck with a loud exhaust. A witness had said he had seen a similar vehicle in the area before and after the temple attack.

Another friend of the suspects told the police that the defendants admitted that they entered the temple with baseball bat making a hole in the wall. He said the defendants described the statues as 'weird' and that they did not know what they were. He said 'the reason why they damaged the building had nothing to do with any kind of religion, but rather that they were 'wild guys.' ' He said the defendants felt bad when they saw news reports that the building was a Hindu temple.

Several of their friends also told the police that the defendants admitted to them about the crime.

When they arrested Spakousky on May 10, he admitted going with Toumie on that night in the pick up. They noticed a dome shaped building was being built. He said that they initially drove up around 11:15 p.m. to look at the building and then returned around 1 am, parked the truck about half mile away and walked up to the building carrying baseball bats. They broke the window and entered the building. 'Once inside, they used baseball bats to put approximately eighty holes in the walls and to break several windows and statues that were inside,' the chargesheet noted.

Spakousky also admitted that they set a portable toilet on fire a few blocks away.

He told the police that he would like to talk to the owners and ask for forgiveness. He said he did not know the building was a Hindu temple and that he was sorry for what he and his friend had done.

The police searched the homes of the defendants with warrants and recovered the pickup truck, bats and athletic shoes with a tread pattern that matched the ones found in the muddy footprints at the temple.

The attack was condemned widely and people from different parts sent money to meet the cost of rebuilding.

'Much of the damage is covered by insurance, a significant fraction will not be so covered. We anticipate that the costs to the temple, including the costs of increased security measures, may be close to $200,000,' temple officials noted.

Meanwhile, security at the temple has been increased after the incident.

The Hindu Society of Minnesota also announced an interfaith education initiative. 'Once this initiative is fully underway, we anticipate that we will set up a foundation which will consist of representatives from a number of religious groups. The foundation will fund a number of initiatives intended to improve understanding of religions and promote tolerance and a shared appreciation of the similarities across religious traditions. The aim is to focus primarily on educating school age children and college students,' temple authorities said in a statement.