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Arrest confirms the worst: Gravestone statue destroyed

Norwich A Willimantic man will be arraigned today and further arrests are expected in connection with the theft and destruction of a 120-year-old bronze statue from the grave of Sarah Osgood in the Yantic Cemetery.

The theft upset local art and gravestone preservation advocates, who feared the worst for the life-size statue of a kneeling woman that had been atop Osgood's flat gravestone.

Police charged Sean P. McNee, 43, of 182 South Park St., Willimantic, with first-degree larceny, first-degree criminal mischief and desecration of a grave site. He was held on a $150,000 bond pending today's arraignment.

More arrests are expected, said Norwich police detective Lt. Stephany Bakoulis.

The 450-pound, 120-year-old bronze statue was reported missing on Feb. 19 by city Public Works Department crews doing maintenance in the cemetery. Five days later, police received information on the location of "a portion of the statue." Police soon were able to recover most of the statue, which had been cut into several pieces. Police said the statue was valued at $35,000.

After what Bakoulis described as an intense investigation, police obtained a warrant for McNee, who was arrested Monday morning at his home without incident.

The arrest confirmed rumors that have been circulating for the past week that the statue had been destroyed.

"I am truly discouraged to hear this," said Vivian Zoe, curator at the Slater Memorial Museum. "An arrest is a good thing and will, hopefully, make others reconsider an act like this. The piece was truly magnificent and for over a century graced the Sarah Osgood grave unmolested."

Zoe and David Oat, cemetery historian and preservation advocate, said they hope the incident sparks renewed interest in protecting the city's historic cemeteries. Oat plans to meet with others to form a Friends of Yantic Cemetery group that could help repair other vandalized grave sites and perhaps close and lock the swinging wrought iron gates at night.

"My sincere hope is that it can be repaired or re-created," Zoe said. "There are many terrific artists in the area who could probably do the work."

Nelson Dale, owner of Restoration Services in Arlington, Mass., said the statue could be restored, although it would be a major job. Missing pieces would have to be molded and cast anew, he said.

Dale recently worked on a similar but much smaller restoration of a bronze statue of St. Edith Stein that had been vandalized. Someone hacked at the statue with an ax, cutting off several fingers and leaving hack marks at the side of the head. The vandal left a note: "Don't pray to statues."

Anyone with information can call police (860) 886-5561 or the anonymous tip line at (860) 886-5561 ext. 500.


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