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Stolen Christ Statue Found; Homeless Woman Held

Crime: Work taken from La Crescenta church turns up in a San Bernardino County hospital.

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 whom they believe took it for protection.

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

Staff, a transient known to San Bernardino sheriff's deputies, stole the 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.

On 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 then fled.

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

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

Both hands on the statue had been broken off, said Young, adding that the note read: "I took the scriptures literally, if God is with you, who can be against you?"

Young said he did not know why the Apple Valley resident was in Glendale, but said she apparently drove there in her 1972 Chevy van.

"She's been very cooperative," said Det. Blane Chambers of the Apple Valley substation of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

The 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 Easter Sunday, 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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