By Shereen Siewert

The Hmong American Center Board of Directors publicly thanked the community for their support in raising funds to fix a van that was vandalized earlier this month.

The van, used to transport elders to get vaccines and deliver food and supplies to people in need, was vandalized with red spray paint in early March. Derek Heikkinen launched a GoFundMe page as a way to help the organization deal with the cost of repairs and donors responded, posting messages of support and raising more than $7,000 in a matter of days.

In a letter to the community, Executive Director Yee Leng Xiong thanked Heikkinen, all donors who contributed and the business owners who reached out to offer services to assist in cleaning the graffiti from the van.

“We would also like to thank our friends at the Wausau Police Department, specifically Officer Claire Aschenbrenner, for helping us investigate this case, prioritizing our safety and ensuring that we felt welcome in the community,” Xiong said.

On Tuesday, the Hmong American Center was notified that police identified the suspects who vandalized the van. Xiong said there is no evidence that supports the idea that the vandalism was a hate crime.

Rather than pressing charges, the Hmong American Center will work with the Wausau Police Dept. to conduct educational discussions with the suspects involved. Their names have not been publicly released.

“As we have mentioned time and time again, we do not wish harm to the individuals, but rather peace and healing,” Xiong said.

The Center will have the graffiti removed and the vehicle serviced at BRB Auto Body, the first business to contact the organization and offer services. Once service is complete, the group will decide how to use any remaining funds and report their decision to the community.

Xiong said seeing the love and support from the community made the challenges of the past few weeks easier.

“We are genuinely thankful and speechless and eternally grateful to each of you for your love and support,” Xiong said. “There are no words in Hmong or English that we can use to express our gratitude and deep appreciation.”