Model-home vandalism investigation leads to tech trails, arrest of two Bennington teens

The process took Douglas County investigators about two years.
Published: Apr. 15, 2021 at 6:47 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 15, 2021 at 6:54 PM CDT
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BENNINGTON, Neb. (WOWT) - Douglas County Sheriff’s deputies arrested two teens Thursday after investigating multiple vandalism reports at new homes in an Omaha suburb.

Two years ago, the area at 168th Street and North HWS Cleveland Boulevard was pretty rural — there would be fewer devices leaving a trail of data behind them.

A lot can happen in two years, but deputies figured they would try to see whether they could track down those responsible for a number of break-ins in the area.

In April 2019, Celebrity had model homes under construction when thieves left behind a path of destruction: Spindles busted out of railings. Holes smashed into walls. An oven dented.

Twelve homes under construction in the northwest part of the county were hit in a two-week span, causing $50,000 in damange.

Investigators had muddy shoe prints, but no suspects.

“Ten years ago, nothing like this would have been possible,” said Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael DeChellis. “The technology was not there.”

DCSO investigators believed the same teenagers were responsible for all the damage, so the team decided to geo-fence the areas, assembling a search warrant for Google to pinpoint all the electronic devices being used at the locations and how long.

It took a year to get back the anonymous data.

Investigators then found a couple randomly assigned devices that were near a handful of the vandalized properties during overnight hours, so deputies filed another warrant to find out who owned those phones.

Last week, they arrested two Bennington 18-year-olds. They were 16 years old at the time of the vandalism, and will be tried as juveniles.

A broker with Celebrity Homes told 6 News they are thankful for the efforts to close the case.

“It’s a fairly new process as smartphones become more ubiquitous to society,” DeChellis said. “They’re constantly in communication with a variety of networks, and that always leaves a trail that can be followed.”

Both teens have since bonded out of jail. They’re due back in court next month.

While the damages were costly, a Celebrity Homes spokesperson said, the company wishes the best for those responsible and their families.

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