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Park chapel closes doors
April 13, 2017

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AUSTINTOWN - A serene place to pray, reflect, meditate or get out of the weather, typically unlocked at all hours of the night in order to serve as the sanctuary it was meant to be, is closed to the public after mounting acts of vandalism.

"I've had enough," said Pat Connolly, chairman of the 9/11 Memorial Park Committee.

For the fourth time, the white clapboard park chapel with stained glass windows, an altar and crucifix needs a new door. But the disregard for the property goes even further than damaging a door, Connolly said.

People have put cigarettes out in the pews and carpets, nearly started fires, left evidence of illegal drug use, written vulgar messages in the chapel guestbook, and left obscene items for others to find, Connolly said.

While Connolly said he hates the idea of putting surveillance cameras up at a place of prayer, the desecration is just too much to let go.

Police Chief Robert Gavalier said officers are driving by the Raccoon Road park frequently, but cameras would be a helpful tool to find and prosecute the bad actors.

"We have something too beautiful in our community to let a couple of hood rats ruin it," said Austintown Trustee Jim Davis.

The park has soil from the Pentagon and where Flight 93 went down in Shanksville, Pa., Sept. 11, 2001, and some steel from the World Trade Center, which took years to acquire, Connolly said.

Victims of domestic violence, people without a warm bed in cold months and travelers from across the county have used the chapel for comfort, warmth and reflection, Connolly said.

"It really is a sanctuary, and I hate to have it closed. It isn't something that should ever be locked," Connolly said.

Davis said raising at least $20,000 would pay to pave more of the parking lot, pay off another new door, install security cameras and support maintenance of the park.

Davis said he can accept donations at 330-518-7067. Those who would like to buy a brick or bench in exchange for a donation can pick up the form in a mailbox in the parking lot of the park, 1051 S. Raccoon Road.

But, that isn't all Davis is asking of the public.

"We need your eyes and ears," Davis said.

Tips about the vandals can be submitted anonymously to the Austintown Police Department at 330-799-9721.

"We will catch you (vandals), and the police will knock on your door, arrest you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law," Davis said.

The park memorializes 9/11, an event too sacred to debase, Davis said.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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