Published May 20, 2010
The 7-foot cross that was stolen from a veterans' memorial in the Mojave Desert this month was replaced overnight Wednesday — and authorities are now deciding whether to let the shrine stand or tear it down.
The National Park Service is currently evaluating the cross to determine whether it is the original, which was ripped from its rocky perch on May 9 in a nighttime heist that shocked the site's caretakers and outraged veterans nationwide.
Their measurements could determine whether the cross survives the day. Sources told FoxNews.com that the Park Service will allow it to remain standing only if it is the original; if it is a replica, they will remove it.
The Park Service has the exact measurements of the metal-pipe memorial from years of placing wooden boxes on top of it as part of a court order in a longstanding legal battle over whether the cross — which sits on federal land — violates the separation of church and state.
The site's caretakers constructed a replacement cross on Saturday and have been waiting for approval from the Park Service and Department of Justice before erecting it. Wanda Sandoz, who has watched over the site with her husband Henry since 1984, said the one put in place Wednesday night is not the one welded by her husband.
Sandoz said the cross that went up overnight is white, but their replica has not been painted yet -- indicating that the replacement could be the original stolen cross or someone else's replica.
"I'm curious as to how they got it up there," Sandoz said, explaining that erecting the cement-filled pipes was a rigorous and difficult process — and would be much harder by the light of a quarter moon.
"It's not like you can dig a hole and put a cross in there. It's solid rock up there," she said.
Thieves used bolt cutters to rip through the inch-thick bolts that had kept the cross in place since 1984. That memorial replaced a wooden cross that was put up in the Mojave Desert in 1934 by veterans of World War I to honor troops who died in battle.
Sandoz said her husband was helped by about five or six ranchers when he put up the metal cross in 1984. "One man couldn't have taken it down, and one man couldn't put it back up," she said.
The Park Service did not return phone calls seeking comment, but it told FoxNews.com Wednesday that it opposed replacing the stolen cross as long as litigation continues.
A $125,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of the thieves who took the memorial.