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Mojave Desert cross, focus of long legal battle, is stolen [Updated]

May 11, 2010 |  9:40 am

  Cross An 8-foot-tall cross that stood as a war memorial in Mojave National Preserve and which prompted a U.S. Supreme Court ruling was reported stolen Monday morning.

National Park Service officials said a staff member instructed to replace the cross’ plywood cover had discovered the metal cross missing from its site atop Sunrise Rock along Cima Road.

The cross has stood since 1934 in various forms as a memorial to World War I soldiers.

In 1999, after the park service refused to permit a Buddhist shrine to be erected nearby, former employee Frank Buono sued, saying the official preference for the cross violated the 1st Amendment and its ban on "an establishment of religion."

Me-mojave-cross-g Officials were ordered to remove the cross, but in April Supreme Court justices reversed the decision in a 5-4 ruling.

The wooden cover for the cross was reported missing by park staff Saturday morning. The cross itself was last seen standing Sunday.

[Updated at 9:59 a.m.: "This happened on Sunday night when someone went up there and demolished it,” said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel at the Liberty Institute, which has represented the veterans groups in court throughout the controversy. “It hasn’t even been two weeks since the Supreme Court decision and evidently someone didn’t like that decision and took the law into their own hands and tore it down.”

Shackelford said the cross was made of 3- to 4-inch-thick pipes filled with cement and bolted into the ground. To remove it, he said, would have taken a major effort involving planning and probably more than one person.

The national commander of the VFW called the destruction of the cross "sickening."

"This was a legal fight that a vandal just made personal to 50 million veterans, military personnel and their families," said Thomas J. Tradewell Sr. "To think anyone can rationalize the desecration of a war memorial is sickening, and for them to believe they won't be apprehended is very naive."]

Anyone with information is asked to call National Park Service law enforcement at (760) 252-6120. The Veterans of Foreign Wars is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

-- Corina Knoll

Photo: The war memorial cross in the Mojave National Preserve in 2000. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times