MICHELE NORRIS, host:
A World War I memorial cross that was at the center of a recent Supreme Court case has been stolen. The National Park Service reported that the cross, located in the Mojave National Preserve, disappeared sometime Sunday or early Monday. The controversial cross has been mired in litigation for more than nine years.
And to tell us more about the missing cross, we turn now to Linda Slater. She works for the National Park Service at the Mojave National Preserve and she joins us from Barstow, California, about 60 miles from the Mojave Preserve. Welcome to the program.
Ms. LINDA SLATER (National Park Service, Mojave National Preserve): Thank you.
NORRIS: What was your first reaction when you heard the cross was missing?
Ms. SLATER: I was completely surprised. You know, this case has been in litigation for nine years and nothing has ever happened to the cross before. So, it came as a complete shock to me that this would happen now.
NORRIS: How did you discover that it was missing?
Ms. SLATER: Well, we've been required to keep the cross covered and we've had a wooden box over it during all these years of litigation. And on Saturday, one of our employees noticed that the box had been removed. And so, on Monday morning, another one of our employees went out to recover it and that's when he found out that the cross was removed.
NORRIS: Can you give us just a little bit of background. We explained that this has been at the middle of this litigation that lasted more than nine years and went to the Supreme Court. What's the core issue there?
Ms. SLATER: Basically, there is a cross that was put up by private citizens in land that is now Mojave National Preserve. And the person that filed the suit thought it violated the establishment clause of the Constitution and he asked that it be taken down.
NORRIS: So, a religious symbol on federal land?
Ms. SLATER: Right.
NORRIS: This cross initially was a wooden cross, and then it was replaced over time and it became a metal cross. How did the people who removed this remove it?
Ms. SLATER: You know, the cross is basically two pipes welded together. At the bottom of the cross was a metal plate and that metal plate was bolted directly onto the rock. And so whoever did it just cut those bolts off and hauled it away.
NORRIS: Would it be heavy? Is it something that would be difficult to remove?
Ms. SLATER: I think it would be heavy. It was about seven feet tall, metal pipes with cement poured into the metal piping. So, I suspect it would be more than I could pick up by myself.
NORRIS: So it may be more than one person that you're looking for.
Ms. SLATER: Could be.
NORRIS: All right, well, Linda Slater, thank you very much.
Ms. SLATER: Thank you.
NORRIS: Linda Slater works for the National Park Service at the Mojave National Preserve.
And we turn now to Joe Davis. He's the public affairs director with the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Mr. Davis, thanks for being with us.
Mr. JOE DAVIS (Public Affairs Director, Veterans of Foreign Wars): Thank you, Michele.
NORRIS: Now, what was your first reaction when you heard?
Mr. DAVIS: My jaw dropped. It hit the desk. And I just shook my head in total disbelief.
NORRIS: Can you help me understand what this act represents to people who really cared about this cross?
Mr. DAVIS: We look at it as more of a memorial than a sectarian cross. I mean, the veterans were - I mean, the World War I veterans, they were sent off to the desert by the government because the government said the arid, dry climate would help in the recuperation from the mustard gas attacks. Going back to 1934, they were there, erected this cross on top of Sunrise Rock.
Now, Sunrise Rock was selected because when the sun is just right, you can see the face of a World War I doughboy in the rock. And that's why they chose this very simple memorial to recognize and honor the 53,000 American combat dead in 19 months of America's involvement in World War I. We don't look at this cross as a sectarian religious symbol. We look at it as a symbol to honor the war dead.
NORRIS: Now, you're offering money for information that might lead to the arrest. How much is the reward?
Mr. DAVIS: Right now, $25,000 leading to the arrest and conviction of the culprit or the culprits.
NORRIS: Mr. Davis, thank you for your time.
Mr. DAVIS: Thank you.
NORRIS: That was Joe Davis. He's the public affairs director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
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