For as long as Meeker County Sheriff Brian Cruze can remember, outsiders have rolled into Litchfield in search of ghosts.
The ghostbusters usually just trespass into the cemetery where five casualties of the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War are laid to rest. Sometimes they desecrate headstones.
Last week's episode, in which four self-styled "ghost hunters" were arrested for burglary and vandalism inside the Ness Church, a 19th-century building that's fabled for paranormal activity, was especially egregious.
"I started working here 21 years ago," says Cruze. "Usually we don't deal with people actually breaking into the church, but that's what happened. It's unfortunate because it's a beautiful old church."
Websites such as hauntedplaces.org proliferate legends that apparitions "of Sioux Indians and a little girl named Annie" haunt the grounds surrounding the Ness Church. YouTube videos are said to prove paranormal activity.
Sometime during the wee hours of Sunday, May 17, 23-year-old Kyle Huber of Victoria and three others from Sioux Falls, S.D. -- 23-year-old Todd Suurmeyer, 25-year-old Joseph Porter, and 24-year-old Brittani Roberts -- allegedly vandalized a monument that marks where the first five victims of the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War are buried.
The quartet also reportedly smashed their way into the church by breaking several windows, which tripped the church's security system. Deputies responding to the alarm arrested the foursome a short time later.
The three men appeared in court last Tuesday and were formally charged with felony burglary and criminal damage to property. Charges against Roberts were dropped.
Over the years, church officials, who contend that internet evidence of ghosts is bogus, have tried to quell the rumors by giving tours. Their pro-activism often goes unheeded.
Ghost hunting "comes in waves," says Cruze. "Media attention will spark people's interest, they'll Google it, and about every four, five, or six years, we'll see an increase in the number of people coming into town looking for ghosts.
"Like everyone else, I've heard what's been said about people seeing ghosts, and things like lights going on for no apparent reason," Cruze says. "But in my experiences out there over the years, I've never seen anything that would make me believe the place is haunted."
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