Briston Bruce lay in a Sioux Falls, South Dakota hospital bed, recovering from emergency surgery. A CT scan revealed a tennis ball-sized mass in Bruce's brain. The 23-year-old Aberdeen police officer had the tumor extracted immediately.
It was September 30. Wife Lillie sat bedside him as Bruce was recovering from the second of two surgeries. Back in Aberdeen, the couple's three children and the family dog, a four-month-old German shepherd named Poppy, were staying with Lillie's parents. That night burglars struck unlocked cars in the neighborhood. They also hit Lillie's parents' house, stealing a checkbook, a laptop, Xbox, spare change, and Poppy, who was inside her crate.
The Bruces filed a police report. Poppy's heist garnered a ton of media coverage in Aberdeen, South Dakota's third largest city, located about 300 miles west of the Twin Cities. It appears the news reports reverberated all the way to Eden Prairie, home to 18-year-old Hassan Mohamoud Yusuf.
Aberdeen Police Sgt. Chris Gross would learn the teenager had attempted to cash one of the Bruces' stolen checks. Video footage from an Aberdeen convenience store was posted. Gross soon discovered that Yusuf's mother lived in Aberdeen.
"Based on a residential burglary in the Aberdeen area," says Gross, "we were able to determine the individual or individuals may be originally from Eden Prairie."
Gross contacted Eden Prairie Detective Carter Staaf.
"He had told me all the backstory on this lost dog and why they were so motivated to find it," says Staaf. "I guess you could say no if you had a heart of stone. I mean, you're not not going to put your best foot forward on something like this."
Eden Prairie police interviewed Yusuf's roommates. They told investigators that media reports about Poppy had spooked the suspect, which prompted Yusuf to release Poppy into the streets of Minneapolis.
"What we were told is because the police were too interested in this dog, they just released it," Gross says.
According to Bruce, Detective Staaf's wife, Susan, decided to conduct her own investigation. Two south Minneapolis residents posted about finding a similar dog on a missing pet website. Staaf emailed Sgt. Gross a photo.
"He was like, 'Does this look like Poppy?'" says Bruce. "Yeah, that's definitely her."
Last Sunday, Gross happened to be Illinois. He decided to make a detour to Minneapolis to pick up Poppy on his return trip to South Dakota.
"It doesn't seem like she was abused or neglected or anything," Bruce says. "She's her normal happy-go-lucky crazy self."
Bruce says an MRI next month will determine what medical path he follows. Doctors were able to remove about 65 percent of the mass that's most likely benign. It's possible the extraction of the "slow growing" tumor won't require radiation or some other form of treatment.
Yusuf was arrested in Aberdeen on Monday. He's been charged with four offenses, including burglary and identity theft.
Staaf can only speculate as to why Poppy was stolen: "Nobody ever steals jewelry and the puppy. It just never goes down that way. I think it says a little bit to the opportunists versus the professional burglar."
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