3 To Know: Vandals strike, drug arrests, more

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Artist Roland Ruocco's mural portraying Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy was one of two murals found vandalized at the Alliance for the Arts. Ruocco has decided against repainting the mural. The damaged work makes a powerful statement against censorship, he says.

1. Vandals strike Ukraine murals in Fort Myers, as defiant Alliance vows to make more

Vandals have defaced two Fort Myers murals that showed support for Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. But just like Zelenskyy, the people behind those murals remain defiant.

They’ll repaint the damaged, outdoor artwork at the Alliance for the Arts, they say.

And you know what? They plan to make even more murals.

“We’re all fired up,” says the Alliance for the Arts’ executive director, Molly Deckart. “They’re gonna have to throw paint on 10 more murals, ‘cause we’re gonna commission 10 more.”

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The 4-by-8-foot murals depicting Zelenskyy — one against a backdrop of a Ukrainian flag — can be seen by traffic passing on busy McGregor Boulevard. The vandalism was discovered Monday morning: Red, white and blue paint mixed with metallic stars and smeared across both murals.

“It was just really, crushingly disappointing,” said Shari Shifrin, director of the Fort Myers Mural Society, which commissioned the murals.

Fort Myers artist Erik Schlake — who made the freestanding murals with Bokeelia’s Roland Ruocco — says he wasn’t exactly surprised by the vandalism. He estimates that 98 percent of the people he’s talked to have loved the murals and their message of support for Ukraine. But there’s always that 2 percent…

“To be honest with you,” he says, “I’m surprised it took so long.” – Charles Runnells/Staff

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State Attorney Amira Fox addresses local media during a press conference April 1 at the Lee County Port Authority Training and Conference Center at RSW Airport. Fox announced the arrest of 27 drug traffickers and their associates throughout Southwest Florida. She announced the recovery of 19 firearms and $200,000 worth of illegal substances and drugs. Agencies spanning across five counties are working together.

2. 27 arrested in SWFL drug trafficking investigation

Twenty-seven drug traffickers and their associates from across Southwest Florida have been arrested, State Attorney Amira Fox recently announced.

The arrests resulted from the work of a Narcotics Enforcement Task Force (NETFORCE) joint undercover investigation, which is part of 'Operation Woot-de-Woot,' Fox said. The task force was created in 2020.

“Even as we stand here today, many members of this wonderful law enforcement team have been serving arrests and search warrants to locate and arrest drug traffickers, and continue to rid our streets of dangerous narcotics,” Fox said during a news conference in the Lee County Port Authority Training and Conference Center at Southwest Florida International Airport.

Team members recovered 19 firearms; almost $200,000 worth of cocaine; 4 kilos of heroin; 7 kilos worth of MDMA/ecstasy; 2 pounds of fentanyl; more than 1,000 grams of meth; and $146,000 in currency, Fox announced.

Among those present were Naples police Chief Tom Weschler; Marco Island police Chief Tracy Frazzano; Fort Myers police Chief Derrick Diggs; Cape Coral police Chief Anthony Sizemore; Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno; and Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. – Tomas Rodriguez/Staff

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Cree, a rescued wolf dog who had lived at the Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Collier County since 2009, died Monday night.

3. Wolfdog Cree, a rescue and 14-year-resident at Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Collier County, dies

Cree, a 15-year-old wolfdog and a resident of Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Collier County, has died.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission seized Cree in 2008 from a hoarding situation in the area of Port St. Lucie, Florida, because of neglect and not having the appropriate licenses to own a wolf. The sanctuary said at that time he was less than a year old, very thin, and extremely shy.

Wolfdogs are generally considered unadoptable by domestic animal services and have nowhere else to go. 

Since then, Cree, who was thought to have been born in 2007, had lived at the sanctuary. His health had recently declined: he became very lethargic, didn’t want to eat, and was having kidney and liver issues.

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"It’s always a hard decision to make, but Cree’s quality of life comes first and we didn’t want him to suffer," a statement from sanctuary Executive Director Deanna Deppen said. – Michael Braun/Staff