By Aimee Ortiz
Parts of a life-size bronze statue that celebrated the legacy of legendary baseball player and civil rights figure Jackie Robinson were found dismantled and burned early Tuesday after it had been stolen from a Kansas park last week, authorities said.
Remnants of the statue were found after a city worker reported a fire in a trash can at Garvey Park in Wichita around 8:38 a.m., Andrew Ford, a police spokesperson, said in a statement.
The Wichita Fire Department responded and, “while assessing the damage, they found pieces of the Jackie Robinson statue that had been stolen.”
The Fire Department immediately notified police, who collected the pieces at the scene, he said, noting that “unfortunately, the statue is beyond repair.”
Police are continuing to investigate, Ford said, and they have “already interviewed over 100 people.” The department is also looking into how the statue was dismantled and how the pieces ended up at the location of the fire. Ford had previously said the motive for the theft of the monument was not known.
Additionally, the Fire Department’s arson investigators are looking into the trash can fire, he said. In a statement posted on Facebook, the department said that “additional parts of the statue have not been recovered at this time.”
The statue had an estimated value of $75,000, according to League 42, the nonprofit Little League that had it installed in April 2021 at McAdams Park.
The incident has caused an outrage in the community, Bob Lutz, the executive director of League 42, which takes its name for the number Robinson wore, said during an interview Tuesday.
“People want to see justice served,” he said. “Nobody can understand why this would happen.”
Robinson, the first Black player in Major League Baseball, became a symbol of hope for racial equality in the country when he broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947. After he retired from baseball, he continued working on civil rights issues and went on to break barriers in advertising, broadcasting and business.
There are still many questions in the community as to who could have been behind the statue’s destruction. Lutz said Garvey Park is “on the other side of town,” roughly a 7-mile drive from the park where the statue had been.
Police obtained surveillance footage of the theft from Thursday morning. The video shows at least two people cutting down the statue and placing it in the bed of a truck that had been discreetly parked near the statue, Ford said. At the time, he declined to specify what tools had been used to cut the statue.
The nonprofit group can now turn its attention to replacing the statue, Lutz said, a lengthy process that will take six months. He added that the group’s members are “looking forward to, in the very near future, the apprehension of the folks who did it.”
League 42 will be able to replace the statue because “we do have the mold” created to represent Robinson, Lutz said, and a GoFundMe account has been set up by the organization to help cover the costs of getting a new one made.
Practice for the organization’s hundreds of players is set to begin March 11, and the season will officially kick off April 15, which happens to be Jackie Robinson Day.
“I’m so fired up to get our kids on the baseball field, and that’s always the case,” Lutz said. “We played seven years without a Jackie statue, but his spirit was always with us, and we may miss the physical presence of that statue, but we’ll be inspired to know that it will be replaced.”
He continued on to say that the message of Robinson “has never rung louder or more true.”