Aileen George visited her late daughter’s memorial bench in Barrett Park on Sunday and was shocked to find the plaque missing.
The 86-year-old Parkvale Estates resident noticed other metal memorial markers had also been taken off benches and picnic tables along the stretch of parkland east of Red Deer’s downtown.
City of Red Deer parks workers found about 25 plaques were gone from Barrett Park and Coronation Park. George figures this happened sometime overnight Saturday or early Sunday.
She’s left with a sickening feeling that somebody purposely stole these tributes to people’s loved ones off public benches: “It made me feel ill… I can’t believe somebody came to take these plaques. It’s like a slap in the face.”
George’s daughter, Donna Ault, died during an ill-fated fishing trip to the Northwest Territories in 2004 at the age of 51. George purchased the memorial bench the same year.
She feels that visiting the dedicated wooden Barrett Park bench, under a “cathedral” of trees and near wildflowers, makes her feel closer to her deceased daughter.
She can’t understand why somebody would desecrate Ault’s memorial — as well as the other plaques dedicated to other people’s departed relatives.
George had paid the city for the dedicated bench and then a fee every five years for maintaining it. She was told the City of Red Deer would work with families to replace the plaques, but is left wondering what for? She fears it could get stolen again.
George notes the thief (or thieves) had to forcibly pry off some of the plaques that were glued on to metal benches, damaging the paintwork.
Trevor Poth, parks superintendent for the city, said memorial plaques have occasionally gone missing from park benches — but never so many at once. “It’s such a frustrating thing…. whenever a memorial is damaged… it’s always disheartening.”
City workers checked with an area scrap yards in case somebody tried to sell the metal, but none of the missing plaques have turned up.
Poth said bronze doesn’t have a lot of value in any case, and local scrap dealers told him they wouldn’t buy stolen plaques.
Const. Derek Turner of Red Deer City RCMP urges business owners to call police or CrimeStoppers if approached by somebody trying to sell these. He encourages anyone with any information about the crime to call in with an anonymous tip.
With no camera footage or known witnesses to the plaque thefts, he believes it will be hard to track down suspects.