About 100 people showed up Saturday to dedicate a portion of a Chautauqua County road to the memory of slain State Trooper Joseph A. Longobardo, but when they arrived, they found the two large signs marking the road as a memorial had been stolen.
Those attending the dedication ceremony -- mostly law enforcement personnel -- reacted with disgust at the thefts but insisted they would persevere.
"It is a reprehensible juvenile act by very immature individuals," said Chautauqua County District Attorney David Foley.
The signs were erected on Bachellor Hill Road and read, "Joseph A. Longobardo Memorial Drive." The site is close to where Longobardo was fatally wounded during the manhunt for Ralph "Bucky" Philips last summer.
Several people at the dedication -- including Chautauqua County Legislator Robert Duff -- said they believe supporters of Phillips were responsible for the missing signs.
Foley would not comment on the investigation.
Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace pledged that the vandals who stole the signs would be prosecuted. The removal of the signs is a reminder that the cause that Longobardo stood for was "law against lawlessness," he said.
The signs were last seen at 11:30 p.m Friday. Early Saturday morning, they were gone.
The idea to dedicate the road to Longobardo was credited to Chautauqua County Sheriff Sgt. Peter Pett.
"We paid for the first signs, and we will pay to replace them," said Deputy Gerald Campese, speaking on behalf of the Sheriff's Office Employees Association.
He pledged that the replacements will be reinstalled soon.
Phillips shot Longobardo and Trooper Donald Baker in an ambush near the road last summer. Phillips was eventually apprehended in early September in Pennsylvania and is serving a life prison sentence.
New York State Police Captain Steven A. Nigrelli, from Chautauqua County, said that he worked closely with Longobardo during the manhunt last year and that Longobardo often spoke of his wife, Teri, and infant son, Louis.
"They can remove the signs, but they can't take away the memory of Joe from our hearts and minds," said Nigrelli, who supervises state police in the Southern Tier.
The captain added that troopers take the thefts personally and are now working with the sheriff's office to find the individuals responsible for the removal.
Nigrelli said the thieves disconnected the posts holding the signs and unscrewed the hardware holding the memorial signs on the posts.
"They then took the posts and discarded them in a nearby creek. The signs with Joe's name are gone," Nigrelli said.
Longobardo's family is from the Albany area and was unable to attend the ceremony Saturday.
In addition to state troopers and Chautauqua County sheriff's deputies, several other law enforcement agencies were represented at the ceremony. The state Department of Corrections Color Guard Unit from the Lakeview facility opened the event.
Anyone with information regarding the thefts is asked to call Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office at 753-2131.