Suspected arson destroys artist’s studio and motorcycle | Crime and courts


A Rapid City artist is devastated after an alleged arsonist started a fire that destroyed her studio and motorcycle on Sunday morning.

“I’m numb. I don’t understand why someone would do it,” Deborah Mitchell said after walking through her blackened and charred studio on Tuesday. “It’s feeling raped.

“It’s my life. Not just my livelihood,” Mitchell said of his art studio and backyard. “It’s basically my life. I think that way. I think in terms of art,” she said in tears.

Mitchell, who lives on South Street, is a professional multimedia artist and art teacher who describes her work as eclectic. The former professor of the École des mines creates paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures and mosaics using oil paints, beeswax, watercolors, photographs and d ‘collectibles such as bottles, ceramics and wood. Mitchell creates works that are both realistic and abstract and draws inspiration from nature, travel and his late mother.

The fire at his property was one of five that started in a trash can, dumpster or shipping container between Saturday night and Sunday morning, according to the Rapid City Fire Department. His is among four who are considered suspicious and occurred west of downtown Rapid City between Mount Rushmore Road and 11th Street.

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The nightly fires came after a series of dumpster fires in the area in recent weeks, according to firefighters, police departments and a man whose garage was destroyed in one of the fires in the area. weekend.

“It is certainly unusual,” said police spokesman Brendyn Medina of the recent incidents.

Medina said previous arson fires may or may not be related to the weekend fires and could have been started by a person or group.

“It’s going to come down to some old-fashioned detective work” to solve the case, he said.

Medina said officers are knocking on the doors of homes and businesses in the area to ask if anyone has seen suspicious activity or has surveillance footage they can review. Officers are also carrying out additional patrols in the area, but this is more of a deterrent than a method of finding the suspect as they already know the police are looking for them.

“They are going to do whatever they can not to get caught,” Medina said.

He said law enforcement would not know the reason for the fires until they spoke with the suspect (s). However, fire experts identify six main motives in arson cases: vandalism, crime cover-up, extremism, profit, excitement and revenge.

Mitchell had spent his Saturday cleaning and organizing his art studio – located in a large shed in his backyard – in preparation for his annual tradition of hand-making Christmas cards using his engraving press.

The fire broke out around 5:45 a.m. the next day, according to firefighters.

“I woke up to what looked like a bomb exploding so I jumped out of bed and the flames were 20 feet high,” Mitchell said.

She said she later realized that the loud explosion sounds were coming from her motorcycle catching fire.

Mitchell rushed to reconnect her hose which she detached for the winter, but the firefighters were soon there.

Once the fire was out, she realized that it had started in her now melted trash can, which she doesn’t store next to her studio.

“This person came and set it up next to my building and set it on fire,” she said.

Tim Rangitsch, the man whose garage was destroyed, also said the suspect moved his trash can from its usual location next to his garage.

The fire burned down much of Mitchell’s studio and destroyed finished artwork, dozens of art books, supplies, and a collection of found and store bought items she uses in her projects. Mitchell said she wasn’t sure her etching imprint was usable.

Burnt mugs and art tools rest on a shelf.

Grace Pritchett Journal Staff

A photograph of her mother burned, but the urn with her ashes survived.

“I was just shocked it was successful,” Mitchell said.

The fire also damaged trees, burned part of Mitchell’s white picket fence, and destroyed “Bella Luna”, Mitchell’s BMW motorcycle she rode across the western United States.

“A lot of my artwork reflects nature,” so “motorcycling was very important in my artistic practice,” she said.

Mitchell said she will do quick roadside sketches while traveling and create works of art inspired by the sensations of driving.


Debrah Mitchell’s burnt out motorcycle sits outside her home art studio on Tuesday in Rapid City.

Grace Pritchett Journal Staff

In the days following the fire, Mitchell was overwhelmed with reception and the need to make phone calls to friends, law enforcement, and insurance and cleaning companies.

Mitchell also noticed people walking slowly past her house, scanning her backyard now visible through the “gaping hole” in her fence.

“For some of them, I feel like it’s just kind of entertainment – that my personal tragedy has turned into entertainment,” she said.

While Mitchell is still dealing with the damage, the artist in her is already thinking about how to get something positive and creative out of the situation.

“I’m even trying to think of how I can create an installation in this rotten burnt out building so that I have some kind of a way to express this extreme thing that’s happened in my life,” she said. declared. “Because I’m a mixed media artist and I do things with collage, maybe that’s a blessing. God gave me a whole bunch of collage materials all at once.

Mitchell said the best way for people to support her is to purchase her artwork, which can be viewed on and at GallerySix13 in downtown Rapid City. She can be reached at [email protected] for questions or orders.

– Contact Arielle Zionts at [email protected]

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