Alaina Golen was out for an afternoon of snail-catching with her husband and their young son at Veterans Memorial Park in Cloquet when, after about five minutes, she noticed something strange.
Graffiti depicting images of what appeared to be a version of a swastika, a Star of David and some initials covered the outdoor brick of the restroom building in the park.
Golen was shocked. She said it felt strange to see such inappropriate and hateful symbols in a place filled with carefree families — the same place where she and her husband were married.
Golen wasn't sure who to call about the graffiti, so she took a photo and posted about the issue on social media in an effort to crowdsource a solution.
After leaving the park Thursday April 22, she posted a picture of the vandalized bathroom wall on the Cloquet Neighbors Facebook page. The post received over 100 comments from Facebook users voicing their concerns.
Among the people to see the Facebook post was Cloquet's at large councilor, Lara Wilkinson, who discussed the issue with city staff. On Friday morning, staff went to the park and removed most of the paint with a power washer.
“Thank you all for caring about this,” Wilkinson posted in an update to the Facebook group Friday morning. “The racist nature of some of the graffiti was especially unacceptable. There is room in our community for broad perspectives and beliefs, but there is NO place for racism in Cloquet. None of us should tolerate it."
Golen shared that she was happy to see a unified community response condemning the vandalism, as well as the quick action taken by city officials.
“It was nice to see that everybody was pretty upset,” she said.
While Golen believes teenagers were likely responsible for the vandalism, some residents expressed concern about possible gang affiliation with the graffiti markings.
According to Cloquet Police Chief Derek Randall, there is no evidence suggesting links between the vandalism and gang-related activity.
There are no active suspects in the case.
"It's scary," parent Laura Lindemood said. "It's sad when I take my kids (to Cloquet) and there's vandalism."
Lindemood grew up in the Cloquet area and has since moved to West Duluth. She has three young biracial children and often brings them to Cloquet parks to play outdoors in a safe environment.
She said that she used to travel to Cloquet for everything, but has grown wary with the recent vandalism. She shared that images like the ones in Veterans Memorial Park create an uneasy environment and bring up questions that are difficult for her to answer, especially as a white parent.
This is not the only instance of vandalism Cloquet has seen recently, with other markings of graffiti being reported around other areas of town.
City Administrator Tim Peterson explained that it would appear the vandalism is occurring sporadically, with multiple locations being tagged with the same type of image. He said one other swastika-type symbol has been found in the city.
Randall believes the only other issue somewhat related to the Veterans Memorial Park vandalism were political issues occurring last fall and spring.
He asked that anyone with information on the current case to contact the Cloquet Police Department and anyone who witnesses vandals in action to call 911.
Peterson encouraged anyone who notices cases of vandalism to call City Hall.
“City staff take great pride in the community and this type of vandalism is taken seriously by all,” he said.
To reach the Cloquet Police Department, call 218-879-1240.
To reach Cloquet City Hall, call 218-879-3347.
To leave an anonymous tip with the Cloquet Police Department, text "TIP CLOQUETPD," followed by your message, to 888777.