Three days after Christmas, Justin and Tori Englehardt headed outside to dust snow off the 50 beehives on their property near Sioux City, Iowa. What they found was disheartening.
All the hives were overturned. Clumps of dead, frozen bees littered the area. The shed where the couple kept their beekeeping supplies was also ransacked.
“They knocked over every single hive, killing all the bees. They wiped us out completely,” Justin Engelhardt told the Sioux City Journal. “They broke into our shed, they took all our equipment out and threw it out in the snow, smashed what they could.”
Approximately 500,000 bees “perished in the frigid temperatures,” causing damage estimated at $60,000, the police report said.
“This probably sunk us,” said Engelhardt, who said the operation hadn’t been able to obtain insurance. The couple had been in the bee business for about seven years, selling honey under the name Wild Hill Honey.
On Wednesday, nearly three weeks after the incident, Sioux City police arrested two boys, 12 and 13, in connection with the vandalism on felony charges of criminal mischief, agricultural animal facilities offenses and burglary according to a police news release. They were also charged with aggravated misdemeanor possession of burglary tools.
The Engelhardts had started their honey business after Justin, who worked full-time as a roofer, heard a radio interview with animal behaviorist. He was drawn to the fact that bees “make life or death decisions by choosing and traveling to a new home on a yearly basis” and arrive “at their decision by collective fact-finding, vigorous debate and consensus building.”
“People can learn a lot by following the lead of the honeybee,” he told the Sioux City Journal in 2014.
Last month, after discovering the destroyed hives, the couple posted photos of the damage on the Wild Hill Honey Facebook page, along with a message: “With this kind of loss, the future of Wild Hill Honey is uncertain.”
The community rallied, raising more than $30,000 on GoFundMe to restore the demolished hives and keep the business afloat.
“Because of you, we will be able to continue our business in the spring,” the Englehardts said in a subsequent Facebook post. “We are deeply moved by your compassion.”
Wild Hill Honey isn’t the only beekeeping operation recently affected by vandals. As police were arresting the two boys in Sioux City, a similar story was breaking on the West Coast.
Someone knocked over around 100 beehives at a private farm in Prunedale, Calif., last weekend. The perpetrator then sprayed gasoline over the hundreds of thousands of bees living there, killing an estimated 200,000, KSBW reported. No arrest has been made.
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