The search is over for a stolen statue of baseball’s barrier-breaking star, but investigators in Wichita, Kansas, say the burned remnants recovered by firefighters mean the tribute to Jackie Robinson is damaged beyond repair.
Five days after the life-size statue was reported missing from a Wichita park and sports complex, police said the fire department had received a phone call reporting a trash can fire.
Once the blaze was extinguished Tuesday, the crew saw what appeared to be burned pieces of the Robinson statue; they were not salvageable, officials said. Additional parts of the statue have yet to be recovered.
“Wichita Fire Department arson investigators are investigating the fire aspect of this incident,” said police spokesman Andrew Ford, who added that authorities have conducted more than a hundred interviews.
Security video early Thursday shows multiple people hauling away the sculpture in the dark and loading it onto a truck that was later found abandoned. Photos show the people cutting through the statue near its base, leaving nothing but Robinson’s bronze baseball cleats.
Authorities have not shared names or suspect descriptions. Wichita Police Chief Joe Sullivan credited intense media coverage with helping push the case forward and said finding those responsible is only a matter of time.
“Whether you’re involved with stealing the statue, whether or not you accepted the statue, you were part of the destruction of the statue,” Sullivan said. “It would be in your best interest to simply turn yourself in.”
City Council member Brandon Johnson, who grew up in Wichita, called the find a heartbreaking discovery.
“I hate to see that this statue is not in one piece,” he said. “I do want everyone to know that we are undeterred in making sure that statue gets rebuilt and put back there for our community.”
The original statue was erected at McAdams Park in 2021 with the help of Wichita’s League 42, a youth baseball league named in honor of Robinson, the first player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947. On its website, League 42 promises children the opportunity to play baseball without the higher costs of playing in organized or recreational leagues.
Replacing the statue will cost an estimated $75,000, but League 42 founder Bob Lutz said the original mold has already been located and will be used as soon as enough money is raised. The group hopes to unveil its new tribute to Robinson within a few months.
“It will mean everything. It will be a joyous occasion,” Lutz said. “Unlike the past five days, we’re ready for some joy. We’re ready for some happiness, and we’re going to pursue that in the best way that we can.”