By Jenna Press
Asst. City Editor
Two weeks after the destruction of their Prayer Walk display, the student group Baylor Bears for Life has accepted that the perpetrators will most likely never be caught.
On Wednesday, Jan. 21, Bears for Life, a student group that’s pro-life, put up its annual Prayer Walk around the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. That Thursday, sometime in the night, the signs were torn down and stolen, along with nearly 100 of the blue and pink flags that lined the sidewalks.
Dr. Douglas Henry, a faculty adviser to Baylor Bears for Life, said, “The signs were a call for prayerfulness, compassion and concern. There have been thefts and vandalism in the past, but it was more typical to see acts of vandalism. This was an all-out assault on the display.”
The damage amounted to over $500 worth of stolen signs and flags. According to a news release by Baylor Bears for Life, this was the fourth act of opposition against the group in the last decade.
The rainy weather of Jan. 21 and 22 meant few students had the opportunity to experience the prayer walk before it was torn down.
“I think that the vandalism shows pretty callous disregard for students’ opinions on campus,” said Houston senior Jackson Perry, the Catholic liaison for Baylor Bears for Life. “It’s just not an appropriate reaction.”
The Baylor Bears for Life spent a few hours putting up the signs and individually placing the 200 flags around the perimeter of Fountain Mall. The bigger signs were new, so it took the student group extra time to put those in place.
“It just goes to show that we have a lot more work to do,” said Katy sophmore Emily Gilcrease, president of Baylor Bears for Life. “I personally don’t understand the rationale behind stealing the signs. It was very unnecessary—nothing we put on them was mean or accusatory in any way.”
The signs held messages such as “Pray for Survivors of Abortion: children who survived an abortion, mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and friends” and “Pray for Adoption: 2,000,000 families in US waiting to adopt; for birth parents who choose adoption to have peace and hope; for the blessing of open adoption.”
Because of past difficulties, Molly Wilmington, the other faculty adviser to the group, notified the Baylor Police Department beforehand so they could keep an eye on the display.
“People protested last year and defaced property,” Perry said. “To be honest, I expected some form of vandalism— everyone was on the lookout for that—but I didn’t expect everything to be removed. It was kind of shocking. What they did was against university policy and illegal as well.”
According to the news release Baylor Bears for Life put out, in 2006, all the signs were stolen, and again in 2009, the display was vandalized by the removal of flags. Last year, a student put photocopied notes on several of their flags.
“Of course it’s not the police department’s job to patrol Fountain Mall at all hours of the night. I don’t fault them at all,” Henry said.
Henry was the person who reported the vandalism to the Baylor police.
“The police thought there might have been a possibility of the vandals being caught on video,” he said. “My understanding is that the investigators didn’t have the angle the security cameras needed to see what happened.”
Student Activities has rules regarding officially approved events on Fountain Mall, which forbid adding, changing or removing signs and interfering with an event.
This year, Baylor Bears for Life tried to proactively prevent vandalism by including two small signs in their display at either end of Fountain Mall, which read, “Please note that this space including the sidewalk has been designated and officially reserved for signs and flyers specifically created by Bears for Life.”
“I wish I knew why they did this, but I don’t have answers,” Henry said. “I don’t have the slightest idea of the thinking or motivation behind it. I told the students it ought not to deter them or hurt their deeply-held convictions.”
Despite the setbacks and negative responses the Prayer Walk has suffered, the group will continue its annual tradition.
“It’s disappointing, but it won’t stop us from doing it again,” Gilcrease said. “It will be more closely monitored next year.”
Henry agreed. “The thieves came by night in an act of cowardice, inconsistent with the values of a university like Baylor,” he said. “Their efforts will be for naught.”
Despite the criminal nature of the removal of the flags and signs, Gilcrease holds no anger for the perpetrators.
“I’d like to apologize if the people who dismantled the display were offended in any way,” Gilcrease said, “But I would ask them, in the future, to deal with it in a more respectful way.”