Less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, for now, the Mojave Desert cross could remain in its location, vandals have torn the memorial to World War I veterans down from its location, leaving only the bolts in Sunrise Rock as evidence of the cross.
The incident sparked outrage among supporters of the cross, including The American Legion, which filed crucial amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief in favor of the cross staying put.
"Reports that the Mojave Cross was illegally removed overnight are very disturbing," American Legion National Commander Clarence Hill said. "The American Legion expects whoever is responsible for this vile act to be brought to justice. While the memorial has been attacked, the fight will continue to ensure that veterans memorials will remain sacrosanct."
The act also drew scorn from Liberty Institute, which has represented the Legion and other organizations in the fight to keep the cross in its current location. "This is an outrage, akin to desecrating people's graves," said Kelly Shackelford, president/CEO of Liberty Institute. "It's a disgraceful attack on the selfless sacrifice of our veterans. We will not rest until this memorial is re-installed."
Park workers noticed on Saturday that the box that has covered the cross during the ongoing lawsuit had been removed. "When a maintenance team went out on Monday to put the box back up, that's when they discovered the cross had been removed," said Linda Slater, public affairs officer for the Mojave National Preserve. "The bolts are still in the ground, but the cross itself is gone."
Word got to Henry Sandoz - the cross' caretaker - and his wife, Wanda, on Monday.
"I have a friend who has a store in (nearby) Cima, and her husband drove by the cross on Sunday, it was uncovered," Wanda said. "(Monday) when he went by, he saw a bunch of park rangers on and around the rock. He stopped and asked what was going on, and one of the rangers pointed to the top of the rock and said, ‘Someone took the cross down.'"
Wanda said her grandson was coming home from college in Utah and was able to take photos of the rock and the pipe sticking out of the ground where the cross once was.
"It's really, really sad. I don't know who would do something like this," Wanda said. "I hope they get to the bottom of this."
Park law enforcement is investigating this crime and is asking for the public's assistance. Liberty Institute is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. Anyone with information about the theft is asked to call (760) 252-6120.
Hill said the latest incident won't stop the Legion from supporting U.S. war memorials. "This was never about one cross," he said. "It's about the right to honor our nation's veterans in a manner in which the overwhelming majority supports. The American Legion strongly believes the public has a right to protect its memorials."