By GREG FOX
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Vandalism has once again struck the city in an emotional way, leaving a huge impact on a Dunkirk resident who donated benches in honor of her late mother.
OBSERVER File Photo
This photo taken in August shows the second of two wooden glider benches in Bicentennial Park that was damaged and graffiti was written on two other nearby benches.
The second of Kathy Collins' two matching, wooden glider benches in Bicentennial Park on Sixth Street (across from Dunkirk High School) was damaged in late September, forcing her to take the bench out of the park entirely in order to protect it from further damage.
"It appears that somebody sat on it from end to end and then kicked the arm of it out and broke the rungs, so I went and I picked it up and brought it home," Collins said.
The first bench was destroyed by vandals in early August, when it was smashed to pieces and thrown into Crooked Brook next to Bicentennial Park. All that Collins recovered from her mother's bench was a couple of wooden rungs. The rest of it apparently washed away.The two benches belonged to Collins' mother, Cecelia Cooley, who passed away in 2005. Collins donated them to the park last year in her mother's memory. The benches had been fully reconditioned and brass nameplates were attached to them, indicating the donor.
After reading about the first destroyed bench in the OBSERVER, a Fredonia resident donated a replacement to Collins.
"I have that one at home and I had not really decided what I was going to do with it (if I should put it back in the park), and then the second one was broken and I decided I'm not going to put anything back there," Collins said. "It would take a lot for me to put them back there. It's obvious that nobody really wants to take responsibility for it and nobody really fesses up to doing it."
Dunkirk resident Harriet "Skeeter" Tower has recently taken the lead in beautifying Bicentennial Park, among other parts of the city, as part of the Academy Heights Neighborhood Association. Tower sent a press release to the OBSERVER that said a reward is being offered for any information on the individuals responsible for causing damage to the park and Collins' benches.
"The remaining two benches (in the park) have been written upon with graffiti and new graffiti is evident on other structures in the park. The association is determined not to allow roving vandals to take over this park. Years ago, the park was abandoned because of just such behavior. Academy Heights residents implore the public, students, school officials and the police to be vigilant and help keep this a safe and beautiful retreat for city residents," the release stated.
When the first bench was destroyed, a few school notebooks were found near the scene with two names on them. However, a police investigation led to inconclusive evidence that those individuals took part in the vandalism.
"The school principal had told me he had interviewed the boy whose name was in the notebook and he said the kid had never been in trouble in school and his notebook had been stolen," Tower said in a phone interview.
Tower also said that after hearing about the vandalism, the Upward Bound Program offered to help the association in taking care of the park.
The officer investigating the case at the Dunkirk Police Department told the OBSERVER that no major breakthroughs have been discovered thus far.
"There's no leads to anything, there's no cameras (in the park). It's just hard to find anything out back there, unfortunately," he said.
"It's a shame that, for one, people don't want to talk because they're afraid of revenge, I think, from people that might have done it and it just doesn't seem like a priority to anybody and so, therefore, that's why I brought (the bench) home," Collins said. "I don't blame the school and I don't blame the police. I blame society in general because people just don't have respect for other people's belongings. Some people, you know, it will be a handful of people who will ruin it for everybody."
Donations to increase the reward for identifying any individuals responsible, or any information or tips regarding the case, may be submitted to the Dunkirk Police Department, located in City Hall at 342 Central Ave., by calling 366-2266.
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