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Statue found and returned to church

November 20, 2008|Susannah Rosenblatt | Rosenblatt is a Times staff writer.

Less than a week after it went missing, the bronze Virgin Mary statue marking the front of Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Newport Beach is back.

The 4- to 5-foot figure was found in the yard of a Tustin woman who called police about it Wednesday morning. The woman, returning from a trip, found the statue on her lawn and alerted police after reading a newspaper account of the theft. The statue went missing sometime between the evening of Nov. 14 and the morning of Nov. 15.

The woman's teenage son apparently had friends visiting the house last weekend; at some point during the get-together, the statue arrived in the yard, Newport Beach Police Lt. Craig Fox said. The woman, who police said asked to remain anonymous, did not realize the figure was stolen at first, so it stood in the middle of her lawn for several days. She is not a suspect in the theft, Fox said.

Newport Beach police returned the statue, worth an estimated $30,000, to the church; it apparently was undamaged, authorities said.

"Everyone was pretty upset and felt victimized that it had been taken," said Ryan Lilyengren, spokesman for the Orange County Catholic Diocese. "I wouldn't go so far to say there was a divine intervention," he said. But "this is a one-of-a-kind piece of artwork."

Police are investigating whether the theft was a prank or whether the statue was stolen for another purpose, Fox said.

The 1920s-era statue, by Mexican sculptor Victor Salmones, was donated to the church about eight years ago, and sat atop a stone pedestal at the corner of Mar Vista and Domingo drives. The church, Lilyengren said, will probably keep the statue on display.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact the Newport Beach Police Department at (800) 550-6273.

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susannah.rosenblatt@latimes.com

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