A popular East Texas statue is back where it belongs after going missing nearly two decades ago. Despite years of investigation, the statue made it home thanks to strangers who found it and never stopped trying to figure out where it came from.
Dr. Mike Metke said in a press conference, "We are pleased that this valuable piece of TJC history has been returned to us and will once again be on display for faculty, staff and students to enjoy.
"It's a great day at TJC. This is the best day I can remember at TJC," said president Mike Metke.
The life-size statue of former TJC President Dr. Harry Jenkins was last seen on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1995. Later that evening, a campus security officer noticed its absence. Tire tracks at the scene led authorities to speculate a truck was backed up to the 300-pound statue's location. It was presumed that two people were involved in the theft. A sharp cutting instrument was used to remove the statue from its footing.
In the days following the theft, Tyler police and other area law enforcement agencies searched pawn shops and local metal shops, to no avail.
The case remained unsolved until TJC criminal justice students and local law enforcement launched a new investigation in August 2011.
"That took us different places, both on and off campus, and so, we followed those leads, to no avail," says Jason Waller, the department chair of the TJC Criminal Justice program.
They didn't get any solid leads, but they did get media coverage. The story about the missing statue found its way to Berny Trevino who'd adopted the statue in 2001. Trevino found it abandoned in an Austin apartment complex and brought it home to his roommate who was studying art education.
"He goes, 'Oh, no. No. This guy has got to be stolen, Berny. This guy has got to be stolen.' So I said, 'Google it. Start Googling it and we'll figure that out,'" recalls Trevino.
For years Trevino and his friend, Matthew Remington, searched online and called Austin churches and libraries looking for the statue's home.
After two years and no luck, they lovingly named the statue "George" and made him part of the family.
"For Halloween and Christmas we would decorate him. He was a pirate one time. For Christmas, he wore a Santa outfit and stuff like that," says Trevino.
The statue was almost sold at a garage sale, until some research showed that sculptures by this particular artist, John Harper, were worth thousands of dollars. Trevino decided to keep it. Then, earlier this month, Trevino and Remington decided to search the internet for information about the statue again.
"[Remington] Googled, the artist's name, 'theft' and 'stolen statue' and out popped an article," says Trevino.
Shocked and excited, the men contacted the school.
"We told the police, we said, 'I think we have your guy. I think we have your statue,'" he says.
Everywhere the statue has been and who originally stole it remains a mystery, but the important thing is that Dr. Jenkins is finally home.
"It's really nice to know that he's going back to where he belongs," says Trevino.
Even though the $5,000 reward for the missing statue expired, TJC still presented that money to Trevino on Thursday. They're thankful that he took good care of the statue and never stopped trying to find its home. The college says they're going to restore the statue, then put it on display, indoors this time, in Jenkins Hall.
If you'd like to watch Trevino tell the entire story himself, click here.
Saturday, July 26 2014 2:09 PM EDT2014-07-26 18:09:07 GMT
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