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Windows Said to Have Virgin's Image Broken

Police say someone shot ball bearings at panes in Florida which attracted thousands of visitors.

March 02, 2004|From Associated Press

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Office windows that thousands of visitors believed bore the image of the Virgin Mary -- but experts said was just corrosion -- were discovered broken Monday, police said.

The three top panes that showed what appeared to be the Virgin Mary's veiled head were destroyed, with just shards of glass remaining in the window frames. The damage was discovered Monday morning, and authorities believed it was done overnight, police spokesman Wayne Shelor said.

The image was first perceived a week before Christmas in 1996 in what was then a home-finance office and drew almost 500,000 visitors within weeks. The building later became the home of Ohio-based Shepherds of Christ Ministries.

Police said three ball bearings were found at the scene. "We think probably somebody launched them using something like a slingshot, right up close to the glass," Shelor said.

Investigators were reviewing footage from a video camera aimed at the windows, but were unsure whether it would identify the vandals.

Stretching almost 60 feet high and more than 20 feet across on nine bronze-colored glass panels, the image to some observers evoked a stained-glass portrait of Mary. Shades of purple, blue, yellow and green washed across the mirrored surface, appearing to outline a robe-draped figure with downcast head.

Glass experts believed the image was created by a chemical reaction and corrosion of the metallic elements in the glass coating, but they could not explain why it took the shape it did.

So many pilgrims came to the site that extra police patrols were in place for a time.

"This is a big loss," said Mary Pardy, who visited the site Monday with out-of-town friends. "I bring a lot of people here who come to visit. It almost makes me sick to my stomach to think about it."

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