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Stolen Jackie Robinson statue found 'burned,' unsalvageable

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — A stolen Jackie Robinson statue has been found “dismantled and burned,” days after it was cut above the ankles and removed from a Kansas park, according to the nonprofit behind the installation.

Kansas police say the Wichita Fire Department got a call of a trash can fire at Garvey Park around 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday. The fire department put the fire out and found what appeared to be remnants of the Jackie Robinson statue, which the Wichita Police Department called unsalvageable.

“This was a heartbreaking discovery this morning,” Wichita City Council Member Brandon Johnson said during a press conference. “I hate to see that the statue was not in one piece, but I do want everyone to know that we are undeterred in making sure that that statue gets rebuilt and put back there for our community, for League 42, for the young people. That symbol of hope will only be gone for a short time.”

Remnants of fire at Garvey Park, Jan. 30, 2024. (KSN News Photo)
Remnants of fire at Garvey Park, Jan. 30, 2024. (KSN News Photo)

He said it is important now to raise money for a new statue.

“This now lets us know that we need a new statue,” Johnson added. “We’re no longer looking for a complete, intact statue. We know now we need to raise money to replace it, and we will do so.”

He asked people to donate to the fund that League 42 has started.

League 42, a youth baseball league, was named in honor of Jackie Robinson, whose uniform number was 42. Robinson was the first African American player in Major League Baseball. The organization brought the statue to Wichita’s McAdams Park in 2021.

“Obviously, this is not the result we wanted, but it is a result, and now we can move on,” Bob Lutz, League 42 founder, said Tuesday. “We know what’s ahead of us. We know we’re going to incorporate a brand-new statue that looks exactly like the old one.”

Jackie Robinson statue in April 2021 (KSN Photo)

Lutz’s friend, the late John Parsons, crafted the statue.

“Fortunately, the mold from his work is still viable, and the statue that reappears at McAdams Park will be the work of John Parsons,” he said. “In a matter of months, that will be erected at McAdams Park, and we’re looking forward to that day … It’ll be a joyous occasion, unlike today, unlike the past five days. We’re ready for some joy, you know. We’re ready for some happiness, and we’re going to pursue that in the best way we can.”

Lutz commended the police for the resources they have put into investigating the crime.

“It’s a sad thing that this happened in our community, but I think the way our community is reacting to it could not be better, so we’re going to move forward here and not look back,” he said.

Wichita Police Chief Joe Sullivan said police are determined to catch the thieves.

“It’s disheartening to see the remnants of the statue, the disgraceful way in which it’s been disrespected,” he said. “But the other side of that is, this is a direct indication of the pressure our investigators are putting on the perpetrators that committed this act.”

“For those of you who are in any way involved in this, that means whether you are involved with stealing the statue, whether or not you accepted the statue, you were part of the destruction of the statue, it is only a matter of time,” Sullivan said. “It would be in your best interest to simply turn yourself in, come forward, admit your part in this, and I’m confident that the DA will consider that. But, either way, we will be arresting several people for what they’ve done to our community.”

The Wichita Fire Department will investigate the arson portion of the crime.

The statue was stolen last Wednesday night from League 42 at McAdams Park at 17th Street North and Ohio.

Wichita Police released surveillance video of the theft. A truck is seen driving around the area before two people approach the statue. They seem to remove the statue from its base and push it to the ground before loading it into a truck and driving off.

The department says investigators with the Property Crimes Bureau worked all weekend, following up on leads. They also got help from the Wichita Police Field Community Response Team.

(Photo courtesy Wichita Police Department)

On Monday afternoon, Wichita Police announced investigators were able to find and recover the truck they believe was used in the crime. Police would not comment on whether the owner of the truck is a suspect.

On Monday, police said detectives were following up on some “promising” leads.

The police chief said they are looking into whether there is surveillance video of the fire in Garvey Park.

Rewards are being offered for information that leads to an arrest in the case.

Source: Fox 8 News Channel

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