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Stolen statue recovered, 2 arrested

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SARATOGA SPRINGS — A bronze statue made in memory of a Saratoga Springs mother who was killed in an explosion and left behind an 18-month-old daughter has been recovered and two men have been arrested.

On Sunday, police arrested two 19-year-old men after receiving a tip and finding the statue in "excellent" condition hidden in one of the boys' bedroom closets.

The statue, valued at $4,000, was stolen sometime between Oct. 12 and Oct. 19. The artwork, between 12 and 18 inches tall and about 100 pounds, was made to remember 24-year-old April Roper. On Feb. 6, 2007, Roper and Questar employee Larry Radford, 48, were killed in a fiery explosion at Roper's home. Roper's husband and 18-month-old daughter were outside the house at the time and survived.

But Saratoga Springs Police Cpl. Shane Taylor said he doesn't believe the two men arrested knew the significance of the statue.

"I don't think they understood. They thought they were going to be funny by taking it. I don't know their intent or what they were going to do with it. But after the media attention I think they went, 'Oh wow,' and locked down," Taylor said.

Roper family's reaction

Greg Roper, April's husband, said his family was excited to learn the statue was found, especially his daughter, who is now 6.

"Her first response was she wanted to go out and see it," Roper said.

Kids do stupid things when they're young. They don't think how it will affect their lives later on. I feel bad for them.

–Greg Roper

The young girl was just 18 months old when the blast killed her mother. Now each spring, Greg Roper said he and his daughter would plant flowers next to the bronze memorial.

Roper doesn't believe the men who allegedly took the statue meant to harm his family. "I don't think they realized the sentimental value," he said.

Roper said he had heard the men who took the statue have written apology letters, but as of Monday he had not seen them.

"Kids do stupid things when they're young. They don't think how it will affect their lives later on. I feel bad for them," he said.

Roper said he was sure the men had learned their lesson, which will likely continue with criminal charges.

How the statue was found

The break for investigators came from a tip from the girlfriend of an associate of the two men. The group was reportedly playing video games one day when one of the men mentioned, "I'd better get rid of that statue," Taylor said. When the girl asked her boyfriend what the 19-year-old meant by that, he told her about the statue. The girl later did the right thing, Taylor said, and called police.

Sunday, detectives contacted one of the men's parents in Eagle Mountain. The father went to his son's room and found the statue in his closet, he said. The man's parents never went into their son's room and did not know prior to Sunday that the statue was in their home, Taylor said.

Investigators had family members contact the man and tell him to meet them at Denny's in Lehi. When he arrived, police took him into custody, Taylor said. While being interviewed, the man gave up the name of a second man. Police contacted him and arranged to have him go to a gas station in Lehi where he was also taken into custody.

Taylor said others were being questioned Monday and there was a possibility of at least one more arrest.

The two men arrested do not have a history of drug use, he said, and doubts they stole the bronze statue to sell to a metal recycling yard for money.

"I don't know their intent and why they had taken it. It never really has been revealed at this point," he said.

But based on interviews with the two, Taylor said he got the impression the motive was more in line with the two simply making a "poor choice" and then getting in over their heads once the theft received a lot of attention.

"They were keeping it hush-hush," he said.

Both men were booked into the Utah County Jail for investigation of theft. Taylor declined to release their names pending official charges from the Utah County Attorney's Office.


Written by Pat Reavy with John Daley.

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