For the third time in less than a year, vandals have stolen “precious” flags from a playground built by community volunteers to honour the memory of Jacob Noble, a 15-year-old Orillia youth who died in 2015.
“I just can’t understand it,” said Jacob’s dad, Jeff Noble. “It’s so frustrating and upsetting ... it breaks our family’s heart.”
The flags were stolen sometime overnight Tuesday or Wednesday, Noble believes, noting the family visits the playground at Homewood Park daily.
The playground was built by a team of local and international volunteers as part of the Where Angels Play initiative.
Where Angels Play was created in the aftermath of the shooting of school children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The group, started by New Jersey firefighters, built 26 playgrounds – one for each child killed.
The Orillia playground was the first built in Canada by the group.
When the park was officially opened in June of 2017, a Where Angels Play flag and a Canadian flag were raised beside a wooden sign dedicating the park to Jacob.
After the flags were stolen a second time last September, officials moved to a rope system to deter thieves.
Jeff Noble thinks thieves either shimmied up the pole or used a ladder to cut down the flags.
The city’s parks recreation and culture department is working with the family to try to thwart would-be thieves.
“We have tried several measures to deter the thefts,” reads a Facebook posting from the city. “We are sincerely asking for the thefts to stop. This has been painful for the family to deal with over and over again and the ongoing replacements are expensive.”
Noble said he was thankful the city is trying to spread the word.
“I just want the city to know that this (playground) was Jacob’s gift to the city … for all kids, big or small, to have a place that brings joy,” Noble said. “It’s a place for families to go and have fun. It’s his gift to them.”
These thefts tarnish that gift in a way, said Noble.
“It’s sad, very sad,” said Noble. “Not one flag has ever been stolen at any of the parks that Where Angels Play have built in the U.S. - only here in Orillia.”
If you know anything out these thefts or see any suspicious activity at Homewood Park, you are encouraged to call Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or go to their website.