Fire crews found the burned remnants Tuesday of a prized bronze statue of Jackie Robinson that was stolen last week from a public park in Kansas, authorities said.
The Wichita fire department received a call around 8:40 a.m. about a trash can on fire at Garvey Park in the southern part of the city and discovered what appeared to be pieces of the statue, according to police spokesperson Andrew Ford. At a news conference Tuesday, he described it as “not salvageable."
The statue, which was cut at the figure's ankles, went missing Thursday morning. It honors the first player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947.
“If it turns out it was racially motivated, then obviously that is a deeper societal issue and it certainly would make this a much more concerning theft,” said Bob Lutz, Executive Director of the Little League nonprofit that commissioned the sculpture. “We’ll wait and see what this turns out to be.”
League 42, which is named after Robinson’s Dodgers number, paid about $50,000 for the model, which was installed in 2021 in McAdams Park, where roughly 600 children play in the youth baseball league. It also offers educational programs.
The police spokesperson said that with assistance from arson investigators, they have conducted more than 100 interviews. Surveillance video shows two people hauling the sculpture away in the dark, to a truck that was later found abandoned.
“Yes, it's really disheartening to see the remnants of the statue and the disgraceful way in which it has been disrespected,” Wichita police Chief Joe Sullivan said, describing the discovery of it as a “direct indication of the pressure” suspects felt from the ongoing investigation.
He said police are conferring with the prosecutor's office on a regular basis.
“There will be arrests, but we're going to make sure that when we do, we will have a solid case,” he said, adding that for anyone involved in the theft “it is only a matter of time.”
Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, paving the way for generations of Black American ballplayers. He’s considered not only a sports legend but also a civil rights icon.
Lutz, the nonprofit director, said there will be a new statue installed that will look exactly like the old one, which was made by his friend, the artist John Parsons, before his death. He said the mold is still viable and anticipated that a replacement could be erected within a matter of months.
“I'm trying to keep it together," he said, adding: “The statue that reappears at McAdams Park will be the work of John Parsons.” He stressed that “we are ready for some joy.”
The theft was discovered shortly before Black History Month. But Lutz said in an interview after the news conference that he was hopeful the motive wasn't racial, but that the thieves just saw the bronze as monetarily valuable.
Council Member Brandon Johnson described the statue as a “symbol of hope” and said donations for the replacement are coming from local businesses and through an online fundraiser.
“This now lets us know that we need a new statue,” he said of the destroyed remains. “We’re no longer looking for a complete intact statue. We know we need to raise the money to replace it, and we will do so.”
This story has been corrected to show that the nonprofit is named League 42, not League 32.