This story was updated at 3:34 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021 with more information.
A $1,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest or arrests after American flags flown in honor of Whitfield County veterans on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the U.S. were desecrated over the weekend at the county courthouse, according to a city news release.
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.
"Who could do this? Whoever did it is sick," Lo Greco's wife, Nancy Lo Greco, said on Tuesday. "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.
"They tore a couple of the missing in action officer flags off of the poles," Lo Greco said.
A review of video evidence from the courthouse and the adjacent BB&T parking deck shows that on Friday night, several vehicles arrived at around 10:30 p.m. and drove to the top level of the deck. Several individuals 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 about 2 a.m., three vehicles remained and several people were on skateboards on top of the deck. Three other people arrived on foot at the parking deck before some of them went down the stairs and ran to the south side of the deck where they began to throw flags into trees. Not all 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.
Among the 775 flags, many were destroyed and nine are still missing. The cost of replacing them so far is expected to be around $800, the release states.
An investigation is ongoing. Two private citizens who wish to remain unnamed have volunteered their own funds to the effort as well. One has agreed to buy replacement flags for those that remain missing.
"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 encouraged 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.