'Touchdown Jesus' Statue Goes Down In Flames

fromWYSO

A huge statue depicting Jesus reaching to the sky got struck by lighting Monday night and was destroyed. Tens of thousands of motorists in Ohio drive by the statue, known as "Touchdown Jesus," each day.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

A fierce storm in southwestern Ohio last night brought an end, at least for now, to a religious highway icon. On I-75, between Cincinnati and Dayton, a towering, six-story statue of Jesus made out of fiberglass and Styrofoam was struck by lightning.

As Emily McCord of member station WYSO reports, it burned to the ground.

EMILY MCCORD: Nearly 100,000 people drive past the stretch of highway by the Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio, every day. Just out front of the church was a 62-foot statue of Jesus that appeared to be rising from the earth. It was nearly impossible to miss, and locals nicknamed it Touchdown Jesus because of the way the statue's arms are raised to the sky. But now...

NORRIS: It looks like twigs and sticks, pretty much just a frame.

MCCORD: Eva Godsy(ph) was one of many who stopped by the church today to survey the damage.

NORRIS: Oh, yeah. I mean, you see it every time we drive past it. I mean, it's always catching your eye because it's big and it's right there. So I just thought it was really strange.

MCCORD: The statue was a well-known landmark in these parts. Facebook has a webpage devoted to it with over 30,000 fans. Though a lot of people make fun of it, to some, like Lauren Burba(ph), it was no joking matter.

NORRIS: It was funny, 'cause I was actually talking to my husband last night, and I was like man, God is so powerful. He can, like wield lightning as crazy as it was last night and the thunder, and then this morning, I woke up, and I had a text message saying Touchdown Jesus burnt to the ground. I was, like, God, I don't know what you're doing.

MCCORD: Mason Fozier(ph) attends Solid Rock Church, and he believes last night's lightning strike saved his church from serious damage.

NORRIS: Jesus has been sacrificing himself for the church for a very long time now and he's still doing it.

MCCORD: Lawrence Bishop is the church's pastor, but he doesn't read anything into last night's strike.

NORRIS: It's sad, but it's not tragic. It can be replaced.

MCCORD: The original statue cost about $250,000 to construct, but the fire also damaged an adjacent building. Total damages could top one and a half million dollars. Pastor Bishop says he's already receiving contributions to rebuild the massive statue.

NORRIS: It represented something, and it was, like, not something that people worship, but it just represents freedom. So he's like the Arnold Schwarzenegger in "The Terminator." He's saying: I'll be back.

MCCORD: That same message is written on the big electronic billboard on the highway, but until that happens, for many motorists all up and down I-75, the view just won't be the same.

For NPR News, I'm Emily McCord in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

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