Home invasion shakes North St. Paul neighborhood


Minnesota Municipal Power Agency recently installed a solar array at North High School as part of the Hometown Solar Grant program. submitted photo

Homeowner dozing in front of TV awakens to burglars

A North St. Paul homeowner isn’t sure when he nodded off while watching TV, but he certainly remembers the exact moment when he woke up around 1 a.m. Oct. 19.

Although falling asleep on the sofa is not a habit of his, John Wyland, 50, said he’d had a hard day at work and was more tired than usual. 

John said he can’t be sure what woke him, but he remembers sleepily lifting up his head and noticing a man in the doorway to the kitchen.

It was quite a shock to see a stranger standing uninvited in his home, which is located in a quiet neighborhood not far from Tower Park. He said people on his street — 13th Avenue East — don’t expect burglars to come barging in, especially when the house is obviously occupied. The porch light was turned on, there were lights on inside the house and voices coming from the TV. 

The stranger standing in the kitchen doorway wore a hooded sweatshirt with the drawstring on the hood tied tightly around his face, and as soon as John popped his head up, the intruder shouted, “Get down!” and pointed a handgun at John’s face.

John admitted later that his sleepy mind was still disoriented, but he put his head back down for a second before coming to the conclusion that he might be able to just scare the man off.

“Get out of here!” John shouted as he sat back up.

 

More than one intruder

Suddenly, three more men came around the corner by the bedroom hallway, and John said he realized the man in the kitchen doorway had only been keeping watch while the other men burglarized the house. 

One of the three was taller than his companions, but all had their hoodies tied tightly to hide their faces. Despite the hoods covering most of their faces, John was able to discern that all four men were in their early 20s, and one of the three accomplices also had a handgun.

John recalled the taller burglar said, “If he moves again, shoot him,” to the man standing over him with a pistol. 

The trio then moved back into the bedroom for a few seconds before returning to the living room. 

One of the men walked up to the coffee table, stood right in front of John and picked up his laptop computer, which had been sitting there. John said he grabbed it out of the man’s hand, placed it on the table and said, “Get out of here!”

The burglar then pointed his gun at John, who tried to grab the weapon but failed. He did manage to hit the burglar and push him over to the corner of the living room. 

He said the other burglars ran forward and began punching him and one of them pistol-whipped him on the head.

“They got me a few really good times ... about four or five really pretty hard. I think at that point I must have gotten stunned and let the guy go, and he took off,” John said during an interview last week.

At that point the three remaining burglars filed out the door, each calmly grabbing one of John’s possessions as he exited. One took John’s guitar; the other had his laptop and the third man pocketed his cell phone.

John said he was still stunned from the blows to the head, so it took him a few seconds to figure out how to contact the police without his phone. He ended up driving to the North St. Paul police station and using the emergency box outside the building to summon help.

John said that paramedics tended to his injuries, while police checked out his house. He later was able to walk through the house with police officers before going to the hospital where it took 11 staples to close the head wounds he received in the struggle.

North St. Paul police said a brazen home invasion such as this is an unusual occurrence in the suburb. But then, just weeks later, a similar incident was reported on 19th Avenue.

John said he hadn’t known the extent of the burglary until his walk-through with police officers. They discovered that all of his drawers and closets had been rummaged through, as well as his basement. The burglars stole his wallet,  Playstation game system and projector.

John said the whole event seemed surreal.

“I’m a regular guy. I don’t do anything illegal. I don’t hang around that kind of people,” who are involved in unlawful activities, John said. “It’s usually pretty quiet in the neighborhood ... There’s no gangs or anything like that. There’s just high school kids, and moms and dads.” 

North St. Paul police Capt. Dustin Nikituk said, “A lot of this is still under investigation.” He added, “People don’t just break in to homes and pistol-whip people.”

John said it appeared the burglars had broken in through a back window on the ground floor, but he cannot remember if the side door had been left unlocked when he fell asleep in front of the TV. 

 

Another case

Despite the rarity of such bold burglaries, a startlingly similar one occurred just weeks later on Nov. 10. This time it was in the 2600 block of 19th Avenue. 

According to North St. Paul police, two men in their early to mid-20s wearing dark clothing rang the doorbell of the residence just before 9 p.m. 

When the homeowner answered, the burglars, one of whom had a handgun, pushed their way in and walked the homeowner through the house, stealing numerous items, but mostly cash. The two men then fled.

Sgt. Bryan Bomstad said that after they posted a crime alert on Facebook, a few people tipped police on suspicious vehicles that were spotted creeping down the avenue, and police are currently following up on those tips. He also said that extra officers have been working to help patrol the area.

“I think statistically, other than the one down on 13th, we haven’t had [a home invasion] in a long time,” Bomstad said. 

Police records indicate that several break ins have occurred in unlocked cars and garages, and a home was broken into on Sept. 17 when nobody was inside, but the records confirmed that in the past several months there were no other home invasions where the homeowner was present or held in their own home against their will.

Both Bomstad and Nikituk said in separate interviews that police are not sure at this time if the same individuals are responsible for both incidents, though police aren’t ruling out the possibility.

 

Advice from an officer

Bomstad explained burglars typically look for high value items that they can sell or pawn, and they also look for cash because it is difficult to trace. 

He said thieves generally plan the actual breaking and entering of a home in advance, though once they get inside they don’t have much of a plan. Often they check out the house ahead of time and plan the best time to break in.

Bomstad said that to help prevent burglaries, homeowners should be sure their doors and windows are locked and their outside lights are left on.

“If you’re not expecting anybody, don’t be answering your doors at 9 or 10 o’clock at night, let alone 2 a.m.,” Bomstad said, adding that it might be a good idea to call police before opening your door if it is a strange time of day and you are not expecting any visitors. 

 

Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com

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