West Richland 9/11 memorial made like new again

When 230 American flags were destroyed and stolen from a 9/11 memorial display in West Richland, it didn't take long for the community to jump into action to restore the avenue of flags.

West Richland police arrested a 15-year-old boy who around 10 p.m. Tuesday reportedly snatched the flags from the ground, broke their dowel rods, and stole and destroyed them.

The teen was arrested on suspicion of malicious mischief and the case has been turned over to the prosecutor, said West Richland police Chief Brian McElroy.

Two citizens driving by the display spotted the vandal and called police, McElroy said.

The 2,977 flags, lining the stretch of Bombing Range Road from Flat Top Park up the hill past Gesa Credit Union since Saturday, are meant to be a weeklong tribute to the people who lost their lives on 9/11 -- one flag for each person lost that day.

They were posted by West Richland Cub Scout Pack 252, the Scouts' parents, West Richland firefighters and other volunteers to remember those who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

The day after the flags were stolen, Stacey and Spain Abney of West Richland spearheaded an effort to replace them.

Stacey and her son, Declan, 9, a fourth-grader at Wiley Elementary School, were one of the 30 parent-Cub Scout teams who put up the flags Saturday.

Each team placed about 100 flags along a 350-foot stretch of the road.

Prompted by his mom, Declan repeated what he had said as he put the first flag in, "one flag in, 99 lives to go."

Stacey Abney found out about the vandalism Wednesday from Jack Hagins, a West Richland firefighter, who posted on his Facebook page how the vandalism was heartwrenching. He said he lost 343 fellow firefighters on 9/11.

Abney posted the information on her Facebook page and soon received a call from her friend Kristen Tschida of West Richland.

"She said, 'We have to fix this,' " Abney said.

Tschida began calling all the craft and dollar stores, searching out all the American flags, of any size, she could find. Abney and her husband, Spain, hopped into their car and began buying flags as Tschida located them -- 20 here, 30 there.

"It cost us between $250 and $300 but it was worth it. I would have done twice that much, three times. It was important not only for what the Cub Scouts and firefighters did, but for the community," Abney said.

That evening, the Abneys and several other Cub Scout parents replaced the 230 stolen flags.

"To see 2,977 flags and know that, therefore, that many people died is overwhelming, beautiful and humbling," Stacey Abney said.

All the flags are flying again -- except for a few that have been pulled up and nibbled by horses and sheep pastured along the road.

"We expected that, but not the vandalism," Stacey Abney said.

Colin Walters, Webelos 1 Den Leader for Pack 252, said, "a lot of people are really impressed with the memorial. We've had a lot of comments and appreciate the support the community has shown."

"It's been a great civic learning experience for the kids," he said.

Stacey Abney agreed. "It was touching to see the Scouts really understanding what the flags meant."

Abney was pregnant with Declan on 9/11. He was born Oct. 13.

McElroy said he found the vandalism "bothersome, just wrong. They are a tribute to each person who died. Each flag represents an individual life.

Anybody in the community, regardless of their politics, has got to respect that tribute for the individuals who lost their lives.

"It took a lot of energy and effort on the part of the Cub Scouts, parents and people who helped. It makes a real statement; it's impressive," he said.