Police say vandals damaged a Confederate soldier statue at Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery, which contains the graves of 2,200 soldiers who were prisoners of war.
Mayor Andrew Ginther condemned the vandalism, saying the city must focus on "productive, not destructive, action" in the fight for progress.
“I understand that markers of the Confederacy bring pain to those fighting persistent racism in our community and across our country, but the destruction of property - and the desecration of any grave site - is unacceptable regardless who was interred," Ginther said in a statement.
The vandals reportedly knocked the statue, of a faceless and unnamed soldier, off the cemetery's monument. After the statue head and hat came off, police said the vandals then left with the head.
Columbus Police are investigating the vandalism, which happened between midnight and 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning. Police had been monitoring the cemetery since the violent protests in Charlottesville.
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Dave Broker, who lived just up the street from the cemetery for years, says he often walks his dog here and brings out-of-towners to visit the site. He says he understands the argument to have some of these confederate statues removed, but calls the vandalism at Camp Chase "heartbreaking."
"I understand them getting rid of them, like downtown Baltimore, and especially down South," Broker says. "But to me when they're in a graveyard, it's a whole different dynamic.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, a Veterans Affairs spokesperson said the agency is working with law enforcement officials to identify the vandals.
"VA is committed to maintaining our cemeteries as national shrines, and that includes repairing this statue, which was erected in 1902 as part of a peace and reconciliation effort led by wounded Union solider William Knauss," the statement read.
As previously reported, Ginther said he generally supports the removal of Confederate monuments around the country but was waiting for guidance from the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs on how to approach the cemetery.