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Iowa Boys Charged In Connection With Deaths Of Half A Million Honeybees

A hive of honeybees on display at the beekeeping convention in Vermont in 2014.
Andy Duback
A hive of honeybees on display at the beekeeping convention in Vermont in 2014.

Two boys have been charged with killing a half-million bees after they allegedly vandalized a honey farm in Sioux City, Iowa, knocking over hives and exposing the bees to deadly winter temperatures.

The suspects are 12 and 13 years old and their names are not being released because of their age.

Police announced Wednesday that the boys had been arrested. They have been charged with criminal mischief, agricultural animal facilities offenses and burglary, all felonies, according to The Sioux City Journal.

"They knocked over every single hive, killing all the bees. They wiped us out completely," Justin Engelhardt, who owns Wild Hill Honey with his wife, Tori Engelhardt, told the newspaper last month when the vandalism took place.

"They broke into our shed, they took all our equipment out and threw it out in the snow, smashed what they could," he said, calling the crime "completely senseless."

Afterward, a friend of the Engelhardts started a GoFundMe page that has raised more than $30,000 in donations, about half what the couple say they will need to restart their business.

"It was amazing and we are deeply grateful for all of the contributions from the people of Sioux City and people around the country," Engelhardt said. "It's thanks to those contributions that we'll be able to rebuild in the spring. We've already made arrangements to get some hives down south and we'll bring them up in the spring and we'll be right back to where we were."

Although the charges could result in fines up to $10,000 and 10 years in jail, the case is likely to be adjudicated in juvenile court.

The agricultural animal facilities charge has been on the books in Iowa only since 1991 and the Woodbury County assistant attorney, Mark Campbell, was quoted by the Journal as saying he could not recall a single case in his jurisdiction where it had ever been prosecuted.

A die-off of pollinating honeybees in recent years has caused concern among scientists. As NPR reported last year, "Researchers have scrambled to figure out what's killing the bees, and they've identified some factors — including pesticides aimed at killing insects, reduced forage plants, and bee mites and other diseases."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.