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Small-town Colorado newspapers stolen after running story about rape charges at police chief's house

Nearly all the copies of a small-town Colorado newspaper were stolen from newspaper racks on the same day the Ouray County Plaindealer published a story about charges being filed over rapes alleged to have occurred at an underage drinking party at the police chief's house while the chief was asleep, the owner and publisher said Friday.

Mike Wiggins vowed to get to the bottom of it, posting Thursday on X, formerly Twitter: "If you hoped to silence or intimidate us, you failed miserably. We’ll find out who did this. And another press run is imminent.”

The newspaper posted the story on social media and removed its website paywall so people could read about the felony sexual assault charges filed against three men, including a relative of the police chief, for actions that allegedly occurred at a May 2023 party in Ouray where drugs and alcohol were used, according to court records.

The suspects were ages 17, 18 and 19 at the time, and the person who reported the rapes was 17, records said.

By Thursday evening, someone had returned a garbage bag full of newspapers to the Plaindealer and supporters had donated about $2,000 to the paper, something Wiggins called “extremely heartening and humbling.”

Wiggins believed the person who returned the newspapers was the person who took them and that only one person was involved in the theft. Wiggins declined to identify the person, but he reported the information to police. Officers also had surveillance video of some of the thefts, he said.

Police identified a suspect who will be cited for the theft, the Ouray County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement posted on social media Friday.

“The suspect is not a member or relative of local law enforcement and not associated with the defendants in the recent reported sexual assault,” the statement said, adding that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation is investigating the sexual assault.

About 250 newspapers filled the racks Friday morning in Ouray County, a mountainous area in southwestern Colorado that is home to about 5,000 people.

“If somebody was going to try to make it so the public couldn't read this story, we were going to make sure to counteract that,” Wiggins said.

The Ouray County Plaindealer is published on Thursdays and delivered to racks late Wednesday. Subscribers receive the paper in the mail.

The rack price for the weekly newspaper is $1, so someone spent $12 opening racks and removing all the newspapers. They missed one newspaper rack at a coffee shop, so about 200 papers were stolen, said Wiggins, who added he was glad the racks themselves weren't damaged.

The newspaper plans to have a story in next Thursday's edition about the theft of the papers and possibly a column explaining why they took it so seriously and reprinted the paper, Wiggins said.

“It's strange to be writing about ourselves,” said Wiggins, who has owned and published the paper for nearly five years with his wife, Erin McIntyre. “We work very hard to make sure we are not the story.”

The only time they had something similar happen was about three years ago when McIntyre wrote about a local campground that was flouting restrictions on lodging put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Someone taped over the coin slot on the newspaper rack at the campground and covered the plexiglass window with a sign asking them to remove the rack, he said.