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Sheriff’s promise to veterans memorial thieves: ‘We will find you’

The bronze statue that greeted visitors upon their arrival at the Walk of Heroes Veterans War Memorial was a sight to behold.

Plaques adorned the entryway to a gray, bricked path that led you to five soldiers — each representing a branch of the military — hoisting an 800-pound globe atop their shoulder, intended as a symbol of sacrifice. Etched in the bricks: memorial pavers for fallen soldiers. 

But by Sunday, the usually patriotic memorial in Conyers was missing two soldiers, the globe and five plaques. 

That sight left Walk of Heroes board director Darin Riggs with a pit in his stomach. 

“When I went up there Monday morning to meet with the county, I felt like I was walking into a funeral,” Riggs told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It was that type of sick feeling of disgust.” 

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The thefts have stung a county that three weeks ago had two bronze frogs stolen from its library, county officials said. 

“A lot of people are wondering if they’re connected, but I’m not able to say either way,” Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Yolande Lovingood-Moore told The AJC. 

But one thing was clear: the hunt is on for the thieves.  

“This is a dishonorable and disheartening act for what we stand for in America,” Sheriff Eric J. Levett said. “Someone trying to tarnish and destroy the place where we recognize our country’s heroes will not be tolerated.

“We will find you.”

Officials are offering a $5,000 reward hoping for information leading to an arrest. Riggs said board members have discussed adding cameras inside the memorial park. 

Authorities believe the thieves hauled the items off in a 1995 to 2000 Toyota Tacoma, towing a trailer with wood-lined floors and railings. The truck also had an extended cab with a lift and all-terrain tires. 

The stolen items were bought in the early 2000s as part of a $200,000 purchase that included two other statues, Riggs said. The breakdown of the individual costs of stolen pieces was not available. 

“Aside from the financial value,” Lovingood-Moore said, “the value of them is priceless.” 

It’s partly what makes the thefts so disconcerting for retired Army veteran Larry Lanham. 

“It’s upsetting that someone would go in there and intentionally damage and steal stuff. There’s no call for that at all,” Lanham told The AJC.

Lanham served for 22 years, including during the Vietnam War, before retiring in 1995. Since then, he’s worked for the American Legion in Conyers and is the organization’s senior vice commander. 

For him, the thefts symbolize a lack of respect.

“I think this generation has forgotten what the memorials are about and what the history is about,” he said. “They really need to learn their history so they appreciate what people have done for them.” 

The (Rockdale County Sheriff's Office) is searching for this vehicle in relation to the vandalism and theft of statues at the Walk of Heroes Veterans War Memorial. (Rockdale County Sheriff's Office)

It’s still uncertain why the vandals targeted the memorial park, but Riggs said there could be two reasons: the bronze and the location. 

“Obviously, there’s somebody doing a lot of metal thieving,” he said. 

Another thing that caught Riggs’ eye was what wasn’t damaged: “They did not do any other additional vandalism. They didn’t spray paint, beat down walls or tear up other items.” 

But perhaps equally key to the thefts is the location. Riggs called it a blessing and a curse. 

“It’s off the beaten path, and on that aspect, it’s very quiet and peaceful,” he said, “... but people can go back there and make all kinds of noise and no one’s going to hear them.” 

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