Thursday, May 20, 2010
A cross honoring America's war dead that was stolen from a federal park in the Mojave Desert has been mysteriously replaced or returned, officials said Thursday.
A maintenance worker spotted the cross on Sunrise Rock, the same place a 7-foot metal cross had stood for decades, said Linda Slater, spokeswoman for the Mojave National Preserve.
The cross apparently was put up during the night, but it was unclear whether it was the original or a replica, Slater said.
There was no immediate word on whether the cross will be covered, removed or allowed to stand.
A cross made of metal pipe stood on the remote outcropping 200 miles northeast of Los Angeles before someone cut its retaining bolts and made off with it on May 9 or May 10. That theft remained under investigation.
Veterans groups had offered $125,000 in rewards for information leading to an arrest.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars first placed a wooden cross on Sunrise Rock in 1934 to honor soldiers killed in World War I.
The metal cross that was stolen was erected in the late 1990s by the memorial's longtime caretakers, Henry and Wanda Sandoz of Yucca Valley.
Henry Sandoz made a replacement cross but had not put it up.
"I was as shocked as anybody" over news that a cross was back on the memorial site, Wanda Sandoz told the Barstow Desert Dispatch.
The first metal cross was the object of a legal dispute for about a decade. A former park service employee sued on grounds that the Christian religious symbol was unconstitutionally located on government land. Congress reacted by transferring land under the cross to private ownership.
In April, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to order the removal of the cross while a lower court decides whether the land transfer was legal. However, the cross was covered with wooden boards.