TWIN FALLS — Police say someone draped a cross in butchered pig parts and left it at the Islamic Center of Twin Falls over the weekend. Authorities are calling it a hate crime.
About 4 feet tall, the cross was wrapped in bacon, pig’s feet and a tongue, and was left in the parking lot.
The incident is the latest in a string of vandalism at Twin Falls’ only mosque dating back to 2015, when anti-Muslim sentiments began to take hold as the community debated refugee resettlement.
Police were dispatched at 7:30 a.m. Saturday to the center at the 400 block of Addison Avenue. The center’s caretaker found the cross, Twin Falls Police Lt. Terry Thueson said Monday.
“Hate crimes such as malicious harassment are very serious and the Twin Falls Police Department takes these crimes very seriously,” Thueson said in a statement released after the Times-News first reported the incident. “The Twin Falls Police Department will do everything within our means to identify those responsible and hold them accountable. Acts such as this cannot be ignored and will not be tolerated in our community.”
No arrests have been made and a police investigation is ongoing.
Imad Eujayl, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Twin Falls, said Monday he doesn’t have a comment about the incident.
But he added: “Always we have this approach to such incidents that it was done by one person who had extreme views or does not respect other people and that’s it.”
He said he can’t apply a “broad brush stroke” to the situation.
A police officer canvassed the neighborhood near the Islamic Center on Saturday, talking with neighbors and checking to see if a pig carcass was left in the area. Under the rules of Islam, Muslims abstain from eating pork.
Police ask anyone with information about suspicious vehicles or activity in center’s parking lot on Friday night or early Saturday morning to call the police at 208-735-4357.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations released a statement Monday calling on state and federal law enforcement to investigate the incident as a hate crime.
The council is the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.
“Local, state and federal law enforcement authorities should investigate the apparent bias motive for this act of religious bigotry and intimidation targeting an American house of worship,” spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said in the statement.
The organization said in the statement it has “witnessed an unprecedented increase in hate incidents targeting American Muslims and members of other minority groups since the election of Donald Trump.”
The Islamic Center of Twin Falls and its members have received other threats in recent years. In 2015, the words “Hunt Camp?” were written in gray spray paint across plywood boards covering windows at the center. Japanese-Americans were imprisoned at the southern Idaho camp during World War II.
Earlier that year, about 10 members of the Islamic Center — and their non-Muslim neighbors — received letters in the mail with two typed pages with passages from the Quran, and directly below them, passages from the Bible.
A center spokesman told the Times-News in 2015 he felt the letters were a form of harassment. He said he suspected someone went through the phone book and picked out Muslim-sounding names to target.
TWIN FALLS — A few years ago, we learned the city planned to tear down the old Rogerson building as part of its downtown revitalization project.
Some complained about the loss of the iconic building, a monument to Twin Falls’ early heyday; others saw the old building on Main Avenue as an eyesore and were glad to see it go.
But some — me included — wondered what would happen to the ghosts who lingered within its halls after the building was destroyed.
The Twin Falls landmark, built in 1908 by Robert Rogerson, once housed an elegant hotel and restaurant. The Twin Falls Times called it “the most pretentious business structure in Twin Falls.”
The building’s historic integrity had been destroyed decades ago but some of its original pieces remained, hidden under layers of upgrades and urban-renewal efforts from the 1970s. My friend Nancy Taylor, chairwoman of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, had organized a group to salvage some of its historic elements before the building was demolished.
At Nancy’s request, a group of paranormal investigators agreed to spend a chilly November 2015 evening in the old building to visit with whatever ghosts were hanging around. The group allowed Nancy and me to tag along, but only if we promised to keep the investigation a secret.
“I didn’t think (a paranormal investigation) was really needed,” Nancy said, “but because the hotel was so infamous I thought it would be interesting to see if anything popped up.”Little did we know we would hit the mother lode.I was anxious to get into the basement to see the entrance to the tunnel that ran from the Rogerson Hotel to the Twin Falls Public Library and under City Park to the Twin Falls County Courthouse, which once housed a jail. One former Twin Falls police officer who had been in the tunnel told me an underground narrow-gauge railway once joined the Rogerson Hotel and the courthouse, perhaps to carry meals for prisoners.
All utilities had been disconnected so it was cold and dark; a man who knew the building well took us for a tour so we could orient ourselves before the investigation. I suggested we start in the basement.
We donned headlamps and dived into a stairwell. It was cold and creepy as we ducked under cobwebs and inhaled musty air. Shadows loomed large as we made our way through what seemed like a maze. In the far corner, we arrived at a large heavy door. Our guide explained that the tunnel had been filled in as he opened the door which went nowhere.
A psychic with the paranormal group crawled on a plank and ducked under pipes to reach the door. The woman, a Bosnian refugee who knew little to nothing about the town’s past, began to get upset — even repulsed.
“There’s a woman here,” she said. “And she’s not right in the head.”
I looked at Nancy and raised my eyebrows. Nancy nodded.
“Oh, she’s not very nice,” the psychic said. Then she doubled over in pain. She looked like she was going to vomit.
“That’s arsenic,” I told her.
Lyda Southard, one of America’s first female serial killers, moved into the Rogerson Hotel in 1919. She waited tables at the old City Cafe — known then as the Grille Cafe — down Main Avenue from the hotel in what is now KB’s. Southard met her fourth husband and sixth victim, Edward Meyer, at the cafe.
Southard, the most infamous woman in Idaho history, is said to have poisoned her daughter, four husbands and a brother-in-law, all by the time she was 27. After exhumation, arsenic was found in all of the men’s bodies.
Southard, by then dubbed Lady Bluebeard by the press, was found guilty of murdering Meyer, a foreman at I.B. Perrine’s Blue Lakes Ranch, and was sentenced to the state penitentiary in Boise.
I have written extensively about Lyda, who is buried in Sunset Memorial Park in Twin Falls. Her parents, Laura and William Trueblood, and three of her victims are buried across the street in Twin Falls Cemetery. Twin Falls Sheriff’s Deputy Virgil Ormsby, the man who brought Lyda to justice, is buried near the Trueblood family plot.
After the tour of the building, we split into two groups. I made sure I returned to the basement with the psychic.
Each group had various tools of the trade: digital recorders that captured EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon), dowsing rods, meters used to detect fluctuations in the electro-magnetic field, and a little box I like to call an “electronic Ouija board” only because I can’t remember the name of it.
Ghosts can supposedly talk through the box, one word at a time.
After entering a room, our leader would explain the box to the ghosts, inviting them to communicate through the box. He would ask, “Where should we go?” and the box would respond with one-word answers, such as “stairs.”
“Oh, you want us to go to the stairs,” our leader would respond, and we moved to the stairwell.
Just down the stairs we found the “Pine Room,” where men drank and gambled during Prohibition.
Then the box went silent.
“She’s here,” the psychic said solemnly. “She’s threatening.”
The woman began to argue with Lyda.
“You do not have permission to hurt me or anyone else here,” she said sternly.
The ghostbusters all looked at each other nervously.
Then Lyda turned her attention to me.
“History,” the box said in rapid succession.
The astonished group looked at me.
“I guess she knows I’m here,” I said with pride.
FILER — A Kooskia man is the new police chief in town.
The Filer City Council met in a special session Monday morning and unanimously appointed Jeff Troumbley as chief after an executive session. Troumbley is a staff sergeant with the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office.
Mayor Rick Dunn said Troumbley was picked from a pool of seven applicants by a panel of law enforcement officers from within Twin Falls County.
Troumbley will start work in mid-November. His salary hasn’t been negotiated yet, Dunn told the Times-News Monday.
Former Chief Tim Reeves, who was fired in July, made about $64,000 per year including retirement benefits, according to salary records provided by City Clerk Debbie McMahan.
“I really like what he will bring to the community,” Councilwoman Christina Hatch said during the special meeting when Dunn asked for comments from the council.
The city has been without a police chief since July 18 when the Council voted 3-1 to fire Reeves. Dunn reassigned the police chief’s duties to Sgt. John Darnall the following day.
Soon after, Dunn told police officer Jay Wiggins his position would be eliminated in September at the end of the fiscal year because of budget cuts. Wiggins is now working in northern Idaho.
The city came under fire in June when it invited Twin Falls County Sheriff Tom Carter to present a proposal to take over law enforcement for the city. Residents were outraged at the thought of losing their police department and vowed to recall the mayor and three of four city council members because of it. Petitioners failed to get enough qualified signatures to put the recall on the November ballot.
Finalists in the search for a police chief underwent “a psychological evaluation and polygraph to make sure we were hiring a good, qualified person,” Dunn said. “All those things came back fine.”
Troumbley told those at the meeting he has 27 years of experience in law enforcement, including police chief in Elma, Wash., a town of 3,000.
FORT BRAGG, N.C. — In an unexpected and emotional statement, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl apologized in court Monday to all the military personnel who were wounded searching for him and described the daily nightmares and flashbacks to his five years in captivity of Taliban allies he still endures.
Bergdahl, of Hailey, was the first witness in the presentation by the defense to the judge who will decide his punishment for endangering comrades by walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009. He spoke for two hours, giving a wide-ranging description of his brutal years in captivity and what challenges he still faces with daily life.
“I would like everyone who searched for me to know it was never my intention for anyone to be hurt, and I never expected that to happen,” he said, choking up at times. “My words alone can’t take away their pain.”
Bergdahl faces a maximum of life in prison after pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
His appearance on the witness stand, which the defense hadn’t publicly made known in advance, served as a dramatic counterpoint to several days of emotionally wrenching testimony by several service members who were seriously wounded during a massive search effort. He described the brutal conditions he faced, including beatings with copper wire and unending bouts of gastrointestinal problems brought on by squalid conditions. He was kept in a cage for four out of the five years after several escape attempts, and his muscles atrophied to the point he could barely stand or walk.
Asked by a defense attorney what the worst part of captivity was, he responded that it wasn’t the beatings.
“The worst was the constant, just the constant deterioration of everything. The constant pain from my body falling apart. The constant screams from my mind,” he said, haltingly. “It was the years of waiting to see whether or not the next time someone opens the door if that would be the person coming to execute you.”
Bergdahl said he still has nightmares that make it hard to sleep more than five hours. He checks his door at least three times to make sure it’s secure each night and sleeps with a flashlight nearby.
He wakes up sometimes not remembering that he’s back in the U.S., he said, and has daytime flashbacks to captivity arising from unpredictable triggers.
“It could be anything: A smell, perfume, damp earth, garbage,” he said.
The 31-year-old soldier was brought home by President Barack Obama brought him in 2014 in a swap for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
Because Bergdahl’s words in court were an unsworn statement, prosecutors won’t be given the chance to cross-examine him.
His dramatic words came after an eventful morning in which the judge ruled that President Donald Trump’s scathing criticism Bergdahl won’t prevent the soldier from receiving a fair sentence.
Then-Republican nominee Trump repeatedly called Bergdahl a traitor on the campaign trial and suggested that he be shot or thrown from a plane without a parachute. Trump revived those comments when Bergdahl pleaded guilty on Oct. 16 by saying at a news conference that he thinks people are aware of what he said before.
Nance did say he would keep Trump’s comments in mind as he weighs other factors that will go into his sentencing decision. The hearing is expected to last several more days.
Following Nance’s ruling, prosecutors called their final witness, Shannon Allen, to discuss a traumatic brain injury suffered by her husband when he was shot in the head during a search mission for Bergdahl. National Guard Master Sgt. Mark Allen was on a mission to gather information in two villages in July 2009 when his unit was ambushed by insurgents using small arms, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
The soldier is unable to speak, uses a wheelchair and needs help with everyday tasks, his wife testified.
Shannon Allen’s voice faltered when she referred to the brain injury’s effect on his interactions with their daughter, who was an infant when he was wounded. She is now 9 and Mark Allen is in his mid-30s.
“He’s not able to reach out for her or talk to her,” she said, tearing up and pausing to take a deep breath. “He’s never had the chance to really play with her or help coach her sports or ask about her day.”