81-year-old savagely beaten in Brooklyn Center burglary

  • Article by: LORA PABST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 26, 2009 - 11:39 PM

A Brooklyn Center resident needs multiple brain surgeries after two teenage boys forced their way into his home.

A few days before Christmas, Norman Arneson's Brooklyn Center home was burglarized for the first time in his 54 years there.

The 81-year-old installed motion detector lights and boarded up the opening in the garage where the thieves had gotten in. But none of the simple precautions could have helped him Sunday, when two teenage boys knocked on his door, pushed him down and beat him while they looked for items to steal, his family said.

This week, Arneson's five children have watched their dad as he recovers from the emergency brain surgery he had Sunday. A second brain surgery will take place today.

"He's just not our dad right now," said Vickie Trainor, one of Arneson's three daughters. "That day, we never would have recognized him because his face was so beat up."

There was one thing that Arneson did that may have saved his life -- visiting with neighbors often and reminding them to watch out for one another.

On Sunday, a watchful neighbor peering out a window noticed two teens force their way into Arneson's home in the 5700 block of Northport Drive. The neighbor called 911, and police arrived quickly enough to find the two suspects, one just outside the house and the other hiding under a car in the garage, investigators said.

Christopher L. Johnson, 16, of Brooklyn Park, and an unnamed 15-year-old have been charged with felony first-degree assault and two counts of felony burglary. Johnson told police he and the other teen were "broke and needed money" and that Johnson knew an "old dude" who probably had some money, according to the criminal complaint.

The two knocked on Arneson's door and when he answered, they asked if they could do yard work for him, the complaint said. The 15-year-old told police he hit Arneson several times while Johnson looked for money.

When police arrived, Arneson was kneeling on the floor near his couch, which was covered with blood. Blood was splattered on a wall. Arneson's hearing aids and several wallets were on the floor, the complaint said.

Arneson's daughter Trainor said that even before the robbery, her dad was trying to sell his house so he could move into a one-level townhouse. "My dad did say he was a little paranoid, especially recently when there have been more break-ins in the area," Trainor said.

Dave Johnson, like Arneson a crime watch block captain, said recent burglaries had prompted neighbors to pay more attention.

"This is a neighborhood where we have a lot of seniors who ... live by themselves and this sort of thing terrifies them," he said. "If there's any good to come out of this, maybe this is a wake-up call."

Arneson's church, Cross of Glory Lutheran Church in Brooklyn Center, is holding a meeting to talk about the incident at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. Arneson's family said they hope others learn from the tragedy.

"My dad isn't a rich man," Trainor said. "We couldn't figure out why he was targeted. We just don't want this to happen to anybody else."

Staff writer David Chanen contributed to this report. Lora Pabst • 673-4628

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