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Woman Held in Theft of Church's Statue of Jesus

April 28, 2001|JEAN GUCCIONE and SCOTT GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A life-size statue of Jesus Christ stolen from a La Crescenta church was found in a San Bernardino County hospital this week, and authorities arrested a 44-year-old homeless woman Friday. They said she may have taken it believing it would protect her.

Terri Denise Staff of Lucerne Valley was being held on suspicion of burglary, grand theft and vandalism, authorities said.

Staff, a transient known to San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies, stole the 90-pound wooden statue for protection because she lives alone on the streets, said Sgt. Rick Young, a spokesman for the Glendale Police Department.

The six-foot statue was taken from a storage room behind the altar at St. James the Less Catholic Church on April 9 or 10.

Wednesday night, the Rev. Santiago Ner, a chaplain at St. Mary Regional Medical Center in Apple Valley, walked into his office and saw a woman writing at his desk, authorities said. She fled.

When she left the office, "the chaplain reported finding Jesus in his office," Young said.

Authorities were led to Staff using the chaplain's description of the woman he saw and her handwriting on the note, he said.

Both hands on the statute had been broken off, Young said. And someone had written "I took the Scriptures literally, if God is with you, who can be against you?"

Young said he didn't know why Staff, who is from Apple Valley, was in Glendale.

Since being arrested, "she's been very cooperative," said Det. Blane Chambers of the Apple Valley sheriff's substation.

The church's pastor, Msgr. Robert Gipson, said Friday that his congregation will be delighted with the news of the statue's return.

"I was totally amazed at the distance it had traveled and why someone would take it and drop it off at a Catholic institution some 80 to 100 miles away," he said.

The statue, carved in Italy, is displayed only during the 40 days of Lent, which ended on Easter, he said. During the rest of the year, the church displays a similar-size statue depicting Jesus rising from the dead.

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