Thieves have stolen a cross in the Mojave Desert that honored American war dead, less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the religious symbol to remain on federal land.
The 7-foot-high cross was stolen late Sunday or early Monday by thieves who cut the metal bolts that attached the symbol to a rock in the sprawling desert preserve, National Park Service spokeswoman Linda Slater said.
Authorities had no immediate motive for the theft but ideas range from scrap metal scavengers to people "with an interest in the case," Slater said.
A $25,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the thieves, she said.
Veterans groups were outraged.
"The American Legion expects whoever is responsible for this vile act to be brought to justice," said Clarence Hill, the group's national commander. "While the memorial has been attacked, the fight will continue to ensure that veterans memorials will remain sacrosanct."
The Veterans of Foreign Wars first placed a cross on the rock in 1934 to honor the dead troops of World War I. Slater said she did not know when the latest version was erected.
Late last month, the Supreme Court refused to order the removal of the cross by a 5-4 vote in a controversial case focusing on the separation of church and state.
The cross had been covered with plywood while the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case but vandals tore off the cover over the weekend. Maintenance workers went out to the rock to replace it and discovered the cross was missing, Slater said.
The VFW promised that the memorial will be rebuilt.
"This was a legal fight that a vandal just made personal to 50 million veterans, military personnel and their families," National Commander Thomas J. Tradewell said.
The remote rock is about 70 miles south of Las Vegas and 200 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
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