GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A pair of boots was stolen from an ArtPrize entry in Veterans Memorial Park, then returned.
The Warrior’s Path display is meant to honor veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice or who continue to cope with the scars of war. The original display included several pairs of boots which were actually worn by soldiers.
Several ArtPrize entries have seen vandalism this year, with items like dinosaurs and wind chimes taken.
The boots were taken sometime overnight Saturday before volunteer Aaron Bull arrived on Sunday morning. He was saddened and upset to hear they were gone.
“Let’s put it this way: I can’t say it on TV. I was more than aggravated,” Bull said. “I didn’t think they were going to come back unless we found the homeless person.”
The Grand Rapids Homeless Outreach Team found the boots and returned them.
According to the Grand Rapids Police Department, the person said they did not realize they were part of an art display and has been provided another pair of boots.
Artist Laszlo Szalay, a Marine veteran and metal worker from Brighton, is competing in ArtPrize for the first time and really wanted to make a statement with the entry.
“It was more than just a pair of boots laying there and more than a piece of steel,” Szalay said. “I had had a vision at one time that building a memorial to my brothers I lost in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
The piece also looks to bring awareness to issues like post-traumatic stress disorder and the veteran suicide rate.
“Some folks are lost, and they don’t even know they’re gone yet. And, you know, that’s what this is about — raising the awareness so we can stop that 22 a day,” Szalay said, referencing the estimated number of veterans who take their own lives each day.
Because of what happened, the original sets of boots have been set aside and replaced by other boots.
Szalay is grateful that the ones that were taken were returned. He’s also grateful for the community members who have been donating boots, which he plans to use for an even bigger display honoring veterans who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We’re going to try to collect enough to represent the 7,000 individuals that we did lose,” Szalay said.
ArtPrize gave News 8 the following statement in response to the cases of vandalism and theft:
“ArtPrize is saddened to hear of the recent reports of artist vandalism and theft. We are working diligently with city partners and officials to investigate these incidents and would like to remind the community to stay aware of public area surroundings. The spirit of public art is meant to inspire and be enjoyed by everyone and we hope we can work collectively to preserve this special element of ArtPrize.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified the branch of the military in which Szalay served. He is a Marine veteran. We regret the error, which has been fixed.