Jackie Robinson statue found burned, destroyed after theft from youth baseball field

Una estatua de bronce del legendario pionero jugador del béisbol Jackie Robinson fue robada de un parque público en Wichita, Kansas, durante las primeras horas de la mañana del jueves 25 de enero de 2024. La estatua valorada en 75.000 dólares fue la figura dentral de las instalaciones deportivas de League 42, iniciada en 2015 para ayudar a niños de escasos recursos a tener acceso al deporte organizado. (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle via AP)
League 42 is looking to replace its Jackie Robinson statue. (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

The Jackie Robinson statue stolen from a youth baseball field in Wichita, Kansas, was found beyond repair Tuesday, with its remaining pieces in flames on the opposite side of the city.

The bronze fixture belonged to League 42, a program named in honor of the number Robinson wore when he became the first Black player in Major League Baseball.

After the figure was cut at the ankles and hauled away late Jan. 24, the city estimated damages to be $75,000. Wichita Police described the community as "devastated" and asked for the public's help locating the thieves.

On Tuesday morning, the statue was located when police were called to the scene of a dumpster fire at Garvey Park in North Wichita. Responders extinguished the blaze and discovered pieces of the sculpture in the smoke.

League 42 was founded by executive director Bob Lutz in 2013, who hoped to lower baseball's barriers to entry for all local children. The program hosts about 600 kids in a baseball league and allows them to participate in educational courses. Lutz was inspired by Robinson's legacy, and the baseball legend's likeness stood as a welcoming beacon to the program's multiple fields at North Wichita's McAdams Park.

Lutz spoke at a news conference Tuesday, saying the organization will look to replace the sculpture. While the remains are not salvageable, the piece can be duplicated. It was built by the late artist John Parsons, who left behind a mold of the work after sculpting it by hand. It took Parsons two years to create the statue, which was installed in 2021.

“We’re going to move forward here and not look back. Today is a day where we know what’s ahead of us, and we’re going to confront that head on," Lutz said. "The statue that reappears at McAdams Park will be the work of John Parsons."

Wichita Police continue to investigate the theft. Surveillance video was released Thursday evening and showed at least two people in the act of tearing down the statue and placing it in a truck that was later found abandoned.

“There will be arrests, but we're going to make sure that when we do, we will have a solid case,” Wichita Police Chief Joe Sullivan said. “So for those of you who are in any way involved in this — that means whether you are involved with stealing the statue, whether or not you accepted the statue, you recorded the destruction of the statue — it is only a matter of time. It would be in your best interest that you simply turn yourself in.”

League 42 is crowd-sourcing for the cost of the new statue via a GoFundMe that amassed more than $20,000 in two days.