Flag theft outside veterans auditorium causes a flap in Santa Rosa

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KTVU) -- An unusual theft in Sonoma County is causing a flap because three large flags that usually fly outside the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Santa Rosa have been stolen.

"It's very unfortunate, a shame really, but it is what it is," Lee Redfield, events coordinator at the facility said, while showing a metal fastener that had been cut off the flagpole.

Someone entered the property across from the Sonoma County Fairgrounds during Wednesday's overnight hours and pulled down an American flag, a POW-MIA flag, and a California State flag.

"That's not a super-fast process," Redfield said. "It's not something you could do real quickly."

Staff at the building noticed the next day. The thief cut the metal asp, opened the pulley box, and worked the rope system, which requires some strength.

"It's a pretty hefty system and the wind kicks pretty hard up there," Redfield said.

There are no surveillance cameras at the site and the complex is a huge assembly hall with multiple meeting rooms. The building was built in the 1950s and is a local landmark that is rented out for trade shows and other events. It also serves as a meeting home for area veterans groups.

"There's a lot of passion around our veterans, and everything they represent," said Gene Clark, Sonoma County's Deputy Director of General Services.

The day the theft was discovered, replacements were ordered, and smaller substitutes were raised temporarily.

"They represent our country, our veterans, we love our veterans, and that's why we're saddened," Clark said.

Police filed a report and posted a photo on Facebook, showing the pole stripped of its flags, which triggered a huge response.

"Veterans are calling, they're the most outraged," Stephanie Goodwin, the office manager, said. "And they're saying 'How could this happen? Why would someone do this? This is really disrespectful.'"

The police department's social media posting generated about 1,000 reactions and almost as many shares, with many commenters harshly condemning the theft.

Others offered to pitch in for new flags, and someone launched a GoFundMe page. Each flag costs $300 to replace.

"It's a good sense of humanity that everybody cares, they want to come together and they want to make it right," Goodwin said.

Friedmans, a local hardware store, has also offered a full set of flags, so the veterans may end up with a spare set or two.

The heavy-duty flags can be flown constantly because they remain in good condition in inclement weather.

By KTVU reporter Debora Villalon.

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