DULUTH - When Addie Byrne discovered her garage had been broken into the morning of Dec. 7 and seven pairs of expensive skis were missing, she thought they were gone for good.
An avid downhill and cross-country skier who competed at the NCAA Division I level at Harvard, she blamed herself for not having a security camera trained on her locked garage. Her fiancé filed a police report but they couldn't stop there, she said. Byrne turned to a local online group of outdoorsy women she belongs to — Badass Women Doing Badass Things — and the rapid mobilization of that group, along with video footage from the suspect's neighbor, led to the recovery of nearly each pair of Nordic and cross-country skis.
"I figured if I could rally anyone quickly, it would be them," Byrne said, of the WhatsApp group that meets weekly to ski, mountain bike, hike or run.
Byrne, a 31-year-old Grand Rapids, Minn., native who lives in the Chester Park neighborhood of Duluth, posted the news and ski descriptions to the group at 7:30 a.m. Within a couple of hours, someone said they had seen a Facebook Marketplace post advertising several pairs of skis that matched what was stolen from Byrne's garage. Bria Schurke, a group member, reached out to the seller and asked to purchase the skis, but was told they had been sold. She said she had evidence he had stolen them and asked for them back, no questions asked. He denied they were stolen, she said.
"This group of women, we're all pretty feisty," Schurke said. "We didn't want to let this guy get away with it."
Byrne and group members plastered social media with reports of the burglary and descriptions of the missing skis, ranging in cost from $400 to $700 a pair, and by the next day most of the people who bought the skis from the suspect had figured out they had purchased stolen property. They were also willing to sell them back to Byrne for what they paid.
"They had done the right thing by coming forward, and I didn't want them out money," she said, noting the suspect sold them all for far less than they were worth.
One buyer was able to offer the name and address of the suspect to police. Meanwhile, someone who had seen the online post for the stolen skis contacted Duluth resident Ryan Tessmer. Tessmer recently installed cameras around his apartment building following some storage unit break-ins, and the friend who saw the post was aware of that. Sure enough, Tessmer had recent video footage of someone carrying skis inside. He contacted Byrne and offered the footage.
Tessmer has noticed for months his neighbor bringing items into their building, he said.
"In the summer I would see kayaks, boats, motors and air compressors being sold," he said. "And as the seasons changed, it became mountain bikes and skis. ... It's nice that something good can come out of social media."
The Duluth Police Department announced Friday the arrest of a Duluth man on pending third-degree burglary charges related to the stolen skis. The Star Tribune doesn't normally name suspects who haven't been charged with a crime.
Byrne, who is still out one pair of skis and a snow blower, said the "awful" feeling of experiencing a burglary is offset by the sense of community found with her fellow citizen sleuths.
"It honestly felt like such an empowering situation overall," she said. "I never thought I'd see these skis again."