BARABOO, WI—Sauk County Sheriff Virgil "Butch" Steinhorst announced Tuesday that he believes a recent rash of Baraboo-area crimes was perpetrated by the al-Qaeda terrorist network or teenagers.
"In this day and age, it's important for law-enforcement officials to consider global threats as well as local ones," Steinhorst said. "We could be dealing with an al-Qaeda sleeper cell attempting to collect information that they could use to plan a terrorist strike or some of those goth kids who knocked over that mailbox. Neither group has any respect for the law."
The string of unsolved crimes includes the defacement of public property, an incident of breaking-and-entering, and a string of harassing phone calls. The latest crime—the sudden disappearance of two yield signs from Hoxie Street—occurred Monday.
"We believe the yield signs were removed in order to disrupt traffic patterns, most likely to cause an accident," Steinhorst said. "The party responsible for the crime could be anyone from suspected terrorist Ahmad Ibrahim Al-Mughassil, who is on the FBI's most-wanted list, to that Fairman kid and his buddies. It could be the work of one or the other. Possibly both, though I have to say I doubt that."
Responding to an anonymous report of a blue Ford Mustang seen idling in the Circus World parking lot for several hours after closing, Steinhorst said, "In these troubled times, any and all suspicious activity is worth investigating."
"This activity matches up with the M.O. of a terrorist casing a potential target," Steinhorst said. "It also matches the M.O. of a group of teens drinking beer and fooling around. But, as Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told us, we are in a state of heightened alert. We could come under attack anywhere, at any time, from any direction. The tip-off could be anything from a duffel bag abandoned in a bank lobby to a carload of people at a stop sign who exit the car all at once, only to reenter through different doors."
Steinhorst regularly receives Department of Homeland Security bulletins that include the names of suspected terrorists. He also makes frequent visits to Baraboo High School, where Principal Larry Stordahl provides him with a list of possible truants.
"Teens regularly act without regard for the consequences of their actions or concern for their own physical well-being," Steinhorst said. "So do terrorists."
According to Steinhorst, the first in the series of crimes currently under scrutiny occurred several months ago, on April 1, when an unknown party pulled a fire alarm in the Baraboo Community Library during a children's puppet show.
"The perpetrators of the April 1 incident may not even live in Sauk County," Steinhorst said. "They could be terrorists based in Madison. Or it could be students from Reedsburg High School, our nearby rival."
To investigate the possibility of the latter, the Sauk County Sheriff's Department has been exchanging intelligence with the sheriff in Richland County, where unsolved crimes of a similar nature have been reported.
"Over in Richland Center, we had some criminal activity occur dangerously close to unguarded reserves of fertilizer," Richland County police officer Tim Hutter said. "The report came from one Helen Johnson, who expressed fear for the safety of her cows. A cow found lying on its side could either be the victim of a chemical agent or of some immature teenager who thinks it's funny to sneak into the pasture and tip over a helpless animal. Either way, we can't be too cautious."
Steinhorst called upon all Baraboo citizens to report anything suspicious, especially since Deputy Dale Schneider broke his wrist last week subduing a drunken patron of the Come Back Inn, and Deputy Frank Pulvermacher can't work overtime since his mother got sick with dropsy.
Steinhorst said it's important to "not let fear get the better of us, but still remain vigilant."
"Just today, we had a report of some suspicious lettering by the high-school football field," Steinhorst said. "Upon investigation, we discovered the phrase '2005 Rules' burnt into the grass. An item of clothing found at the scene leads us to believe the cryptic phrase was the work of members of next year's senior class, and not, as was originally feared, the warning of an impending terrorist attack. So we can all breathe a little easier."
"You know, that football team is really shaping up this year," Steinhorst added. "We could go all the way to State."