This story was updated at 4:48 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021 to state that the reward has been increased to $5,000.
The reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the desecration of American flags displayed near the Whitfield County Courthouse in Dalton, Georgia, on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the U.S. has been increased to $5,000 from $2,500.
An anonymous donor has doubled the reward money. Another anonymous citizen has agreed to buy replacement flags for those that remain missing.
George Lo Greco, chairman of United We Stand — the organization that has been in charge of putting the flags up during patriotic holidays and events since 1991 — said that while the flags are regularly displayed on such occasions, these were particularly special.
Each featured a card bearing the name of a Whitfield County veteran, paid for by their families. Some of them featured the names of veterans designated as missing in action or prisoners of war, in early observance of National POW/MIA Recognition Day, which will be Friday.
Of the 775 flags put out, nine are still missing, according to Lo Greco. The cost of replacing them so far is expected to be around $800.
"Who could do this? Whoever did it is sick," Lo Greco's wife, Nancy Lo Greco, said on Sept. 14. "These are supposed to be memorials for people who served our country, and instead of letting them be that, they do this. They are totally, totally sick. I can't believe someone would do it. People have lost their perspective in this world. They really have."
According to Lo Greco, a Dalton firefighter was the first person to notice that the flags were not where they were supposed to be on Saturday morning. The firefighter, Gary Stanley, had taken his son down to the courthouse to see the flags so that he could teach him about what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.
Upon seeing what had been done, Stanley called Lo Greco right away, as well as the police and fire department. All of them responded immediately and arrived to find flags had been ripped out of the ground, thrown into trees and bushes — and in some cases ripped off their poles entirely.
At least three of the missing flags belonged to POWs or MIA, according to Lo Greco. It took days to collect and inventory all of them because so many had been pulled out of the ground, but Lo Greco said he and a group of "a dozen or so" local residents gathered on Sept. 14 to finalize the count. Nine flags were missing. The others were salvageable, he said.
Video footage captured at the courthouse and adjacent BB&T parking deck showed several vehicles driving to the top level of the deck late Friday night at around 10:30 p.m. Several people stayed on the top level of the parking deck for more than an hour, hanging out and playing ball. Most of them left before midnight.
At around 2 a.m., three vehicles remained and footage shows several people riding skateboards on top of the deck. Three other people arrived on foot at the parking deck, at which point some of the others went downstairs and ran to the south side of the deck where they began to throw flags into trees. Not all the individuals who were present are believed to have participated. One person in a light-colored hoodie was recorded skateboarding with a flag over his shoulder back in the parking deck.
An investigation is ongoing, and police have released photos of three vehicles that were parked on the top level of the parking deck at the time of the vandalism as well as a surveillance image of a suspect skateboarding.
"That gives me hope, it does," said Nancy Lo Greco. "No matter what these people tried to do or what the point they were making was, there are people here who won't let them get away with it and who will fight for people who fought for them. That counts for something."
Investigators would like to speak to anyone who was present at the parking deck either earlier in the evening or during the incident even if they were not involved. Anyone with information about the incident, who knows who was present or recognizes the vehicles in the surveillance images is asked to contact Detective Clinton Travis at 706-278-9085, extension 9-231.
Contact Kelcey Caulder at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @kelceycaulder.