RICEVILLE | A former Riceville student has been identified as the suspect behind an unspecified threat that canceled classes in Riceville Thursday, law enforcement says.
The name of the suspect has not been released, but the Howard County Sheriff's Office said in a news release the investigation is ongoing.
On Thursday morning, Howard County Sheriff Mike Miner said via phone couldn't release any more information about the threat or the suspect, but said he did not believe anyone else was involved. Criminal charges are pending, according to Miner.
The district was made aware of a "potential safety concern" about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Riceville Superintendent Barb Schwamman said via phone Thursday morning.
The concern came when a group of students reported the potential threat -- which the sheriff's office said came from someone outside the school -- to an administrator. The exact nature of the threat has not been released.
Schwamman said because of the timing of the report, she and law enforcement officials felt it was in the best interest of students and staff to not hold school or day care on Thursday. The Riceville Community Day Care is also located within the school's building.
"I applaud the students for their bravery for coming forward to make the school aware of the issue," Schwamman said.
She added it is the district's concern to always keep students and staff safe.
The Riceville Community Day Care is also located within the school district's building.
"We have been working with Howard County law enforcement all through the night," Schwamman said.
Riceville Schools and the Howard County Sheriff's Department released a statement after canceling classes Thursday.
"We are thankful to the students that reported this to school officials and it is important to discuss with your children and students that it is not appropriate, nor acceptable, to make threats, joke about, or make light of school shootings," the release stated. "We also continue to encourage anyone to report any threats to adults."
The FBI, U.S. Attorney General and Howard County Attorney are providing assistance in the investigation.
Anyone with information about the incident should call the Howard County Sheriff’s Department at 563-547-3535 or the Riceville Community School District Administration Office at 641-985-2288.
This threat comes just over a week after the Feb.14 mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Fourteen students and three staff members were killed with many others injured.
There have been multiple stories across the United States of potential shooting threats within the past week.
An 18-year-old was charged Wednesday with a felony after bringing a loaded gun to school, in Griffith, Indiana.
Trace T. Robertson told a school resource officer at Griffith High School that he had mistakenly brought the gun inside the school and asked if the officer could "cut him a break," the Northwest Indiana Times reported.
There was a lock down Wednesday at Orono public schools in the Minneapolis metro-area after social media posts threatened a school shooting. Several area schools in York, Pennsylvania were closed both Wednesday and Thursday for a series of threats.
MASON CITY | No one was injured in a fire that engulfed a garage attached to a home in Mason City, officials say.
First responders arrived at the scene of a house fire about 11:20 a.m at 1406 S. Georgia Ave., where flames and thick smoke could be seen.
The residents of the home were able to get out of the house, which property records indicate is owned by Gordon and Paula Linnevold.
They had a dog and a cat as well, Mason City Fire Captain Jack Odegaard said.
“They got the dog, we got the cat,” he said.
Due to the fire, live power line became detached from the house and fell on an occupied vehicle, Odegaard said.
The person inside the car was not hurt.
“You’re safe if you stay in the car,” Odegaard said. “If that happens, stay in the car and call for help.”
The ice and elements made it difficult for all at the scene to keep their footing. Two firefighters slipped on the ice in spite of their boots with grips.
“One fell on me and one fell on his back,” Odegaard said. “They’re fine. I caught myself a few times.”
A garage attached to the gray, two-story home was destroyed and part of the inside of the home was damaged through a door.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. Due to the significant heat caused by the fire, siding at a neighboring home on 14th Street Southeast was warped and damaged.
IOWA CITY — A congressman from Iowa said in a sworn statement made public Thursday that a company he failed to disclose wasn't "doing business" in 2016, despite claims in its own advertising to the contrary.
GOP Rep. Rod Blum filed an amended personal financial disclosure listing himself as the majority shareholder and director of Tin Moon Corp. He also listed the digital marketing company as an asset, saying it was valued at $700 as of Dec. 31, 2016.
The move came after The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Blum violated House ethics rules by failing to list his ties to Tin Moon in his disclosure covering calendar year 2016, which he submitted last August. Among other services, Tin Moon has promised to help companies cited for safety violations hide their Food and Drug Administration warning letters below positive search results.
Blum says in the amendment dated Wednesday that his failure to disclose was an administrative oversight because Tin Moon was "basically worth less than $1,000 and not doing business in 2016." He certified that his statements were "true, complete and correct."
Anyone who "knowingly and willfully" makes a false statement in the disclosure can face $50,000 in civil penalties or up to five years in prison, although prosecutions are rare and usually tied to broader corruption scandals.
Records show Tin Moon was incorporated and registered its website in early May 2016. In August 2016, YouTube user "rodblum" uploaded an ad urging viewers to "contact Tin Moon today!" The ad featured a woman claiming that Tin Moon had helped her small business improve its online marketing while saving thousands of dollars. Blum congressional aide John Ferland appeared in a similar testimonial that was uploaded two weeks later, falsely posing as a representative of Digital Canal, a construction software company that Blum also owns. It is based in the same Dubuque office as Tin Moon, an address that Blum's re-election campaign also uses.
While Blum claims his 70 percent ownership interest in the company was essentially worthless in 2016, Tin Moon now claims to have "11,000 satisfied clients."
"How much has he really profited from this company? $700 doesn't stack up with 11,000 customers," the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is working to unseat Blum in November's election, asked in a series of questions for Blum on Thursday.
A phone call to Tin Moon was answered by Monty Alexander, a GOP activist and prominent Blum supporter who has been paid by Blum's campaign for past get-out-the-vote efforts. Alexander is listed as Tin Moon's "reputation management specialist" on a site that promises companies cited for safety violations that it "WILL remove the derogatory FDA letter from page one so it no longer damages your business and reputation."
Alexander, who spent part of Wednesday night sparring with Blum's critics on Facebook, hung up without commenting. Ed Graham, the president of Digital Canal and Tin Moon and the treasurer of Blum's re-election campaign, has not returned messages.
Tin Moon has removed Ferland's false testimonial and an official congressional photo of Blum from its website and changed Blum's title from CEO to "majority shareholder" since the AP began asking questions about Tin Moon this week.
ELDORA | Some members of the community have voiced their opinions about a plea deal for a 61-year-old Aldan man accused of sexually assaulting his 6-year-old granddaughter.
Dean Hilpipre, who was initially charged with two counts of felony second-degree sexual abuse, will likely be sentenced to probation on a lesser charge Friday at the Hardin County Courthouse. In Iowa law, sexual assault and rape are charged as "sexual abuse."
And some community members following the case are not happy about the proposed plea deal, which means Hilpipre would avoid prison time.
The Hardin County Attorney's office has received multiple letters and emails criticizing the deal, and most mention a common theme: that Hilpipre should be put in jail.
Hardin County Attorney Richard Dunn issued a statement in response to these letters, which stated Judge James McGlynn can still issue the maximum penalty "if he deems it appropriate."
"In some cases, the achievable resolution best for a situation does not feel fair," Dunn said in the statement. "Prosecuting child sexual assault often means making difficult decisions. The duty of a prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict, and we at the Hardin County Attorney’s Office seek to do justice every day with the utmost seriousness and commitment."
Still, several who wrote to Dunn's office were critical of the plea deal. The authors of those letters, many of whom said they knew the victim, have been redacted under an exemption in Iowa's open records law.
Assistant Hardin County Attorney Denise Patters wrote in an email that her office redacted the authors' names because the law states people would otherwise be discouraged from submitting letters, if they knew their names might be made public.
"Our office believes it is reasonable that members of the public may be discouraged from writing to share their opinions if we do not shield their identities from public examination," Patters said.
The office also redacted the victim's name from the letters, per Iowa law.
One letter, which was submitted on Feb. 12, criticized Dunn for his involvement in the plea deal, where Hilpipre pleaded guilty to lascivious acts with a child.
"How dare you offer a plea deal to a child molester?" that author wrote, later adding: "I bet you'd feel differently if it was your daughter or granddaughter that was molested by this monster."
Another author, who submitted a letter on Feb. 18, was concerned for the victim's future well-being.
"I find it unjust for the victim and her mental stability for the future ... The child and her family will suffer her entire life, and needs he (Hilpipre) to be held accountable for his actions."
One author stated Hilpipre's sentence was too lentient, given his or her own personal experience with sex abuse.
Much like Kasey Hilpipre — the victim's mother — the author believed Hilpipre is at risk of being a repeat sex offender.
"About 14 yrs (sic) ago I put my ex husband in prison for sexually abusing my daughter," that author wrote in a letter dated Feb. 20. "It was his second time in prison for this type of crime. I do not feel anyone who sexually abuses a child is able to rehabilitate."
Some letters were also submitted to Judge McGlynn, recommending that he not use the plea deal when sentencing Hilpipre.
One author indicated that he or she lives near Hilpipre, and believes he is a threat to the community.
"I do not feel safe with this man walking the streets," that author wrote in a message dated Feb. 15. "Please do what you can to make him pay for what he has done ... give this litte (little) girl justice. Please don't let him off with probation."
Hilpipre is scheduled to be sentenced 10 a.m. Friday at the Hardin County Courthouse.