1.03.2006

Bonfire of the Baby Jesi

New Jersey Police Uncover 27 Stolen Baby Jesuses

from Religion News Service

Sayreville, N.J. - Detectives investigating the theft of a baby Jesus statue from an outdoor Nativity scene at a Sayreville church followed a trail on Monday that led them to the missing statue - and 26 other baby Jesus figurines.

Police said they assumed all 27 statues had been stolen, although they did not know from where.

Police spread the figurines out on a counter at police headquarters to take inventory. All lay, in swaddling clothes, on their backs.

"It looks like a nursery here," said police spokesman Ken Kelly.The figurines, most of them plastic, were found stashed "in plain view" in a car parked outside the home of Christopher Olson, 18, of Old Bridge, N.J., police said.

Authorities jailed Olson and two other men in connection with the theft of the Nativity infant from St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, and the desecration of objects at the church's cemetery. A 15-year-old boy was also taken into custody.

"It was supposed to be some kind of Jesus burning party. I guess they were going to burn everything up," Kelly said, adding that local prosecutors would determine whether the incident constituted a bias crime.

"There was nothing sprayed or written. Is it a crime against Christians? I don't know. We'll be looking at that," Kelly said.

Frank Payne, the father of Michael Payne, said the theft "wasn't a hate crime."

By late Monday, word of the baby Jesus stash had begun to circulate in Old Bridge.

Lou Saverese, a resident of the street where the car was found, said a mystery had been solved. About three weeks before Christmas, he said, the baby Jesus in his Nativity scene disappeared.

Then, in a park down the road, he saw two more plastic Jesus figures hanging from a telephone pole. Police cut them down.

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