Individuals offer money to replace stolen playground sign

Homemade memorial cards honoring Grace McDonnell, one of the victims killed in the Newtown tragedy, surround the location of the stolen sign Tuesday at the Grace McDonnell playground in Mystic.
Homemade memorial cards honoring Grace McDonnell, one of the victims killed in the Newtown tragedy, surround the location of the stolen sign Tuesday at the Grace McDonnell playground in Mystic. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo

Mystic - At least five people have offered to pay to replace the 50-pound vinyl peace sign stolen last week from 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.

A duplicate of the sign, which cost $300 and was stolen May 6, has been ordered but was not installed as of Tuesday. The sign was attached to two posts cemented into the ground.

Stonington Police Capt. Jerry Desmond said Tuesday there will be extra police patrols of the playground and that police are working with the adjacent YMCA to determine a security strategy going forward. He said police continue to investigate the theft after the family reported receiving a call from someone indicating they had taken something from the playground.

People from as far away as Florida and Illinois offered to cover the cost of replacing the panel, said William Lavin, founder of the "Where Angels Play Foundation," which is building playgrounds to commemorate each of the 20 children and six adults who died at the school.

A Mystic YMCA member was among those who offered, Lavin said. "There's a lot of good people out there," he said.

Skip Middleton, who runs a technology company in South Florida, said he felt compelled to help.

"I'd rather build a large group of those who fix things rather than (have) the news be about those who defame things," he said. Additional donations the foundation receives may pay for security cameras at the playground as well as work at future playgrounds, Lavin said. Middleton said he'd like to see more signs put up as symbols of peace.

More than 30 laminated construction paper signs - with drawings of hearts, peace signs and messages like, "Grace you will stay in our hearts forever" - were taped to the empty posts and staked the ground around the playground entrance sign Tuesday. 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.

The McDonnells chose the location because Grace loved the beach and because Chris McDonnell proposed to his wife in Mystic.

Last week's theft was made particularly ugly because someone called Grace McDonnell's mother afterward and told her the sign was gone. The caller, a man, also claimed the shooting at Sandy Hook was a hoax, Lavin said.

Staff writer Joe Wojtas contributed to this report.

d.straszheim@theday.com

Lynn McDonnell, mother of Grace McDonnell, touches the sign in question at the unveiling at the Mystic playground dedicated to her daughter's memory in April. The sign was later stolen.   TIM MARTIN THE DAY
Lynn McDonnell, mother of Grace McDonnell, touches the sign in question at the unveiling at the Mystic playground dedicated to her daughter's memory in April. The sign was later stolen. TIM MARTIN THE DAY
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