As a park crew prepares to remove a vandalized statue from Memorial Boulevard today, the police are searching for the culprits who left “The Hiker” bent and broken over the weekend.
“We need the assistance of the community to resolve this incident which has disturbed the conscience of not just our veterans but of the entire community as well,” Police Chief John DiVenere said Monday.
Mayor Art Ward said that finding the vandals is “a number one priority” for the police because of the utter disdain that the criminals showed in the “cowardly” mauling of a bronze statue dedicated to the city’s World War II veterans.
Park Director Ed Swicklas said that he’s going to find out how much it would cost to fix the historic statue. Given the tab for a mid-1990s overhaul, it is likely to top $15,000 this time around.
“It’s not going to be a cheap repair,” Swicklas said.
“There’s a lot of damage,” the mayor said.
Ward asked the Bristol Veterans Council to consider offering a reward for anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the attack. The panel is considering the idea.
Meantime, the calls for harsh punishment for those responsible continue to grow.
“Put a uniform on them and ship them to Iraq,” suggested Lori DeFillippi, a parks commissioner and a veteran. “Maybe then they will learn what respect stands for!”
DiVenere said the police have “been given authorization to expend all resources and efforts to bring those responsible for this horrendous and criminal act to justice.”
“With many of our officers also being veterans,” the chief added, “the entire department has been shocked by this senseless criminal act.”
Swicklas said detectives have taken a look at the pieces and are trying to figure out what happened.
It isn’t yet clear whether the damage was done by senseless vandalism or if perhaps metal thieves were trying to steal the bronze figure for its scrap value. Swicklas said he saw no sign of anyone using blades on the sculpture so he thinks it’s unlikely that theft was the motive.
Ward said that vandalism in the city is “absolutely out of control” if something like this could happen on the sacred turf of Memorial Boulevard, a parkway created after World War I to honor the city’s veterans.
“They have no bounds and limitations,” the mayor said, and if a crackdown can’t be done quickly, vandalism could escalate into cemeteries and beyond.
The statue is one of 52 bronze casts by Alice Ruggles Kitson made to commemorate the Spanish-American war. The statues show an eight-foot tall “hiker” – a common term for Spanish-American War veterans – dressed in khaki, holding a rifle and looking as if he were resting after a long trek.
Known as "The Hiker," the Memorial Boulevard statue has a twin at the entrance to Rockwell Park that wasn't damaged.
Anyone with information should contact the Police Department at (860) 584-3000 or through its confidential TIP line at (860) 585-8477.
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