Minnesota sheriff's office locates operator of drone that approached kids, dropped candy

A boat's wake crests across Little Rock Lake near Rice, Minn.
A boat's wake crests across Little Rock Lake near Rice, Minn.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News 2018

Updated: 3:50 p.m.

Benton County authorities have identified the pilot of a drone involved in an unusual incident Monday at Little Rock Lake near Rice, Minn. — saying it was an “ill-conceived effort to obtain footage” to use on social media.

Benton County Sheriff Troy Heck said five children and a woman were at the lake about 6 p.m. Monday, fishing along the shoreline near the site of the King’s Inn, a long-abandoned supper club along U.S. Highway 10 that burned last September.

Heck said the group watched as a drone approached them along the shoreline, hover overhead and then leave. One of the children told investigators the drone then returned, carrying something. It dropped a bag of candy near the children, then left again. 

“We definitely want to find out who is doing this and why,” Heck said in an interview with MPR News on Wednesday morning. 

He said witnesses reported seeing a full-sized black SUV in the area where the drone flight may have originated along Highway 10, just north of St. Cloud.

In an update Wednesday afternoon, the sheriff’s office said it had identified and interviewed the drone pilot.

“The evidence gathered to this point indicates this incident was an ill-conceived effort to obtain footage for use on a social media platform rather than an attempt to engage in criminal activity,” authorities said.

Deputies had recovered the candy at the scene, and Heck said there were no indications it had been adulterated or tampered with. The children were not approached in-person, and no one was hurt. 

But the sheriff said earlier Wednesday that the remote drop and the reported abrupt departure of a person possibly responsible for the drone raised concerns about the intention of the drone flight.

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