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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Anonymous letters trouble Spirit Lake authorities

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Police Chief Jon Martyr said his department is still chasing down leads and conducting interviews in a harassment case that has parents and school employees spooked in Spirit Lake.

The Spirit Lake Police Department has been working since December to find out who's behind a series of threatening, mass-produced messages printed on white, orange or lavender paper. The letters include hostile language that is critical of girls athletics in Spirit Lake.

Recipients have found letters on their cars, in school buildings and have received them through the mail. The U.S. Postal Service is assisting in the investigation.

The writer's anonymous commentary doesn't focus on a specific age group but Martyr finds the focus on female sports especially troubling. The Spirit Lake School District has implemented security measures to protect families, players, coaches, school board members and administrators who have received letters as well. People associated with the local youth softball league also have been targeted by the author.

Police are aware of about 50 letters. They say the letters are usually computer generated, folded and stapled shut. The text appears in various fonts and the message is usually less than a page in length.

The author's choice of words has troubled Spirit Lake superintendent Tim Grieves.

"For the last six months we've been working at this, taking special precautions with specific students and we've been trying to identify certain ways that we can help the employees who have been involved," Grieves said.

"We've met with them and have tried to provide support."

The letters are crafted in a way that Martyr has trouble fully understanding the writer's mind set.

"They jump around so much and they have been critical of several different types of organizations. It seems like they are jumping on any train they can to point fingers at people, but it is definitely the same party or parties," he said. "We assume that there is more than one person involved just because of the vast array of interests they have in so many different things. There have been personal attacks against individual parties that are definitely unwarranted and wouldn't be considered by anybody to be morally correct or acceptable."

The sports of basketball and softball have particularly drawn the writer's ire. The messages include accusations against coaches for giving certain athletes playing time.

In some letters, the author encourages athletic officials to "become involved in athletics in a different community," according to Martyr. He sees heavy doses of mocking and name-calling in the letters.

"It's more targeted at certain kids and their abilities - quite a bit of criticism of the coaching and of local organizational decisions," Martyr said of the letters.

He wasn't ready to characterize the writer as an overzealous parent.

"I can't, just by looking at it, say that it is a parent," Martyr said of the writing. "I'd say that it is an overzealous party that somehow has some connection to the athletic programs - or at least one of them."

Grieves and Martyr continue to be concerned because of veiled threats in the letters and their possible connection to acts of criminal mischief in Spirit Lake.

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