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City leaders react to damage to Roanoke Robert E. Lee Memorial; police say it appears intentional

Published: Jul. 23, 2020 at 6:18 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The Robert E. Lee Memorial was found knocked over in downtown Roanoke late Wednesday.

Just before midnight Wednesday, July 22, a Roanoke Police officer, driving in the area of 200 Church Avenue SW, saw the monument lying on its side, broken into two pieces. The preliminary police investigation and evidence indicate the monument was damaged intentionally, according to investigators.

”So when it got pulled over it actually came apart in those two pieces, but it’s not something that can be just propped back up,” said City Manager Bob Cowell about the damage. According to Cowell, the monument weighs between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds.

It’s been at the corner of 3rd and Church for 60 years. Present day it sits diagonal from the courthouse and across from municipal building.

“If I remember correctly a few young men dressed in confederate uniforms, and they were dedicating this monument here that was knocked over last night,” said Bobby Lackey, who says he was 14 when the monument was erected and dedicated to the Star City by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

He said he thought it may get torn down after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville almost three years ago.

It was vandalized in 2017, but wasn't knocked down.

“I was somewhat surprised that this type of action took place now, we did have notice that there had been attempts to do something like this, but to come back and pull it down, disappointing, and dangerous,” said Mayor Sherman Lea.

According to Lea, the attempts took place earlier this week, and surveillance footage from those as well as what happened Wednesday will be included in the investigation.

But other voices in the community are rising too, like Kiesha Preston, organizer of local protests.

”I’m always very clear that I want things to remain non-violent, but with that being said, I think in this particular instance, I don’t think the unlawful movement of the statue is an act of violence, I actually think it’s installation was an act of violence,” said Preston.

No one has been arrested. Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call (540) 344-8500. You can also send a text to 274637; begin the text with “RoanokePD” to ensure it’s properly sent. Calls and texts can remain anonymous.

There will be a public hearing August 17 for members of the Roanoke community to voice their opinions on what should be done next with the monument. It is currently being stored in an undisclosed location.

Stay with WDBJ7 for updates on this developing story.

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