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Half a million bees die in Iowa vandalism, two boys charged

The Sioux City Police Department filed charges against two boys, ages 12 and 13, in connection with the vandalism of 50 beehives last month that left half a million bees dead.

Justin and Tori Engelhardt, husband and wife beekeepers in Sioux City, Iowa, discovered a tragic surprise late last month when they went to check on their 50 beehives.

The hives — home to half a million bees — had been overturned and hacked apart. The couple’s supply shed had been ransacked.

The result was 500,000 dead bees and an estimated $60,000 in damaged property — a major setback for the Engelhardts and their 6-year-old honey business.

"They knocked over every single hive, killing all the bees. They wiped us out completely," Justin Engelhardt told The Sioux City Journal after the Dec. 27 vandalism. "They broke into our shed, they took all our equipment out and threw it out in the snow, smashed what they could."

Image: Honey bees
Honey bees at an apiary near Panama City, Fla. (AP Photo/The News Herald, Andrew Wardlow) Andrew Wardlow / AP

On Wednesday, nearly three weeks later, the Sioux City Police Department arrested two boys in connection with the vandalism.

The charges include three felonies — criminal mischief, offenses to an agricultural animal facility, and burglary — and one aggravated misdemeanor for possession of burglary tools, according to the Sioux City police.

The names of boys, ages 12 and 13, are being withheld, since they’re juveniles.

As the cases involve minors, they’re likely to be adjudicated in juvenile court — sparing the boys up to 10 years in prison and fines as much as $10,000, if they are convicted.

“It’s huge, right? It demonstrates the professionalism and determination of the Sioux City Police Department and we couldn’t be happier,” Justin told The Sioux City Journal after news of the arrests.

After the vandalism, Todd LaCroix of Sioux City launched a GoFundMe page to recoup some of the money that the Engelhardts had lost. The fundraising effort brought in over $30,000 within a matter of days. “Between the contributions and the equipment we were able to salvage, our needs have been met,” Justin wrote, adding that their Wild Hill Honey business would continue in the spring.

Justin Engelhardt started beekeeping six years ago, after hearing an interview on public radio with famed apiologist Thomas Seeley, author of The Wisdom of the Hive.

“The more I studied about the bees, the more I was fascinated by their behavior,” Engelhardt said in an interview with Siouxland Public Media three years ago. “They communicate with each other by dance. If a forager leaves the hive and finds a very good nectar source, she’ll return to the nectar source and dance on the face of the comb inside the hive to let her sisters know the direction and distance of the nectar source.”

“They’re fascinating. I could just lay and watch them for hours,” he said.