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Staff Photo by Jessica Cejnar
Sunrise Rock sits just off Cima Road in the Mojave National Preserve Tuesday without the World War I memorial cross that was bolted to the rock. The cross was reported missing Monday. National Park Service rangers are investigating the theft.

Federal law enforcement investigating apparent theft of Mojave cross

MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE • A cross erected as a war memorial at the Mojave National Preserve and argued over before the U.S. Supreme Court was reported stolen Monday.

Linda Slater, spokeswoman for the preserve, said the wooden cover that had hidden the cross since 2002 was reported missing Saturday. The uncovered cross was seen again Sunday. But on Monday when rangers returned to the site just off Cima Road about 11 miles south of Interstate 15 it was missing.

“It’s pretty heavy and it’s gone,” she said, adding that National Park Service law enforcement is investigating the theft. “Someone could have removed it and tossed it into their truck.”

The original cross had been placed at the top of Sunrise Rock after World War I and had been replaced several times, Slater said. Slater estimated that the most recent replacement — a cross made of metal pipes welded together and bolted into the rock — had been standing there for about 20 years.

A lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California in 2001 argued that the display of the cross in the memorial violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The court ruled that the cross was illegal and must be removed. While the lawsuit was appealed, preserve officials covered the cross with a plywood box.The Supreme Court in April ruled 5-4 that the cross could stay, but the Justice Department hadn’t told preserve officials the cover could be removed so far, Slater said.

U.S. Representatives Howard P. Buck McKeon, who represents Barstow, Jerry Lewis and Ken Calvert condemned the theft of the cross in a written statement Tuesday.

“The discovery that the Mojave Cross has been stolen is harsh and disheartening news to many of us in Congress and most certainly to the Veterans of Foreign Wars,” McKeon said. “While I understand the Mojave cross has faced some controversy, it exists as an earnest memorial for our nation’s veterans who lost their lives in service to America.”

Slater, who said she has received many questions about replacing the cross Tuesday, said the Department of Justice is also involved in the case. That agency would decide whether or not the cross should be replaced, she said.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the theft of the cross, according to the National Park Service. Anyone with information about the theft is asked to call 760-252-6120.  

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4123 or jcejnar@desertdispatch.com


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