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Mystic — The 50-pound vinyl peace sign that marked the entrance of the new playground built in memory of Grace McDonnell, one of the 20 first-graders who died in the December 2012 shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, was stolen Tuesday.
Then someone claiming to have taken the sign called McDonnell's mother and told her the sign was gone, said William Lavin, founder of the "Where Angels Play Foundation," which is building playgrounds to commemorate each of the 20 children and six adults killed at the school.
"There's still a lot of ignorance and evil out there that someone could do something like that," Lavin said Wednesday.
He said the caller was a man who claimed the shooting at Sandy Hook was a hoax.
The pink, purple and blue playground at Williams Beach behind the Mystic YMCA opened on April 27. It incorporates some of Grace's own artwork, including the peace sign panel that was taken Tuesday.
The foundation already has ordered a replacement sign, which should arrive within the week, Lavin said. He said the panel was attached to two posts that were cemented in the ground and still remain.
The McDonnells chose the site because Grace loved the beach and because Chris McDonnell proposed to his wife in Mystic.
Lavin said Lynn McDonnell was upset after the phone call, but she was also so gracious, he said, that she was concerned about how the members of the foundation would feel.
Once a playground is built, it's the local town's responsibility to look after it, although foundation members also will check in or police an area, Lavin said.
But, he said, the vandalism is not a reflection on the community, which embraced the project.
"We're not going to eliminate the ignorance and evil in the world," Lavin said. "I guess our challenge is to pray for them as well. But it's not going to deter us from our goal."
The McDonnells could not be reached immediately to comment.