Crosby man charged in Turning Angel case

Published 8:18 pm Friday, June 26, 2020

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NATCHEZ — Natchez Police arrested a Crosby-area man for damages to the 112-year-old Turning Angel monument at the Natchez City Cemetery on Tuesday.

Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong announced the arrest of Austin Petty, 20, during a Friday press conference.

After obtaining surveillance footage and interviewing witnesses, investigators believe Petty arrived at the cemetery shortly after 1 a.m. on Tuesday as a passenger in a white SUV with other occupants.

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Petty allegedly jumped out of the vehicle and went to the Turning Angel with another passenger yelling at him from the vehicle not to do anything stupid.

Armstrong said Petty then climbed onto the statue and began to rock it when it fell over. The group reportedly drove off after the incident and the statue was found later Tuesday at approximately 12:30 p.m. on the ground, removed from its base.

Officials said the damage to the statue could cost thousands of dollars to repair but did not have an exact estimate as of Friday.

The other passengers in the vehicle were cooperative with investigators and stated they tried to get Petty to talk to police and video evidence corroborates their stories, officials said.

Armstrong said Petty had been charged with felony malicious mischief over $25,000 and received a bond of $50,000 on Friday. Petty has been booked in the Adams County Jail, Armstrong said, adding the charges could result in up to a $10,000 fine and 5 years in jail.

Petty has also been banned from the City of Natchez, Armstrong said.

Armstrong said the incident was random and not related to any protest or defacing of statues or buildings that have occurred in other parts of the nation.

“I want to make sure before the end of the day that we remove any doubts about how all of this came about and to say that this is not part of what we have seen in terms of the national movement,” Armstrong said.

Elise Rushing, president of the Natchez City Cemetery Board of Directors, thanked the Natchez Police Department for their work throughout the investigation and for the community’s support.

“I’m most grateful for what the police department has done and most grateful that this community has come together and has been concerned about what happened,” Rushing said. “We are in the process of making arrangements to have the Turning Angel repaired.”

The Turning Angel is a Natchez landmark, which commemorates the lives of five girls who died in an explosion at the former Natchez Drug Company in 1908.

The angel statue was named “Turning Angel” because it appears to turn at night as cars drive past it along Cemetery Road.

“This is a very special angel and it means a lot to the City of Natchez,” Rushing said. “We want to make sure that it is not just repaired but restored to the way it looked before it was damaged. We will make sure that happens. So many people around Natchez have offered their services and have already made contributions. We will hopefully be able to take in enough money that will handle the repairs.”

Rushing said contributions to the angel’s restoration could be made out to Natchez City Cemetery/Turning Angel Fund, P.O. Box 1738, Natchez, Mississippi 39121.

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Tuesday’s incident was not the first act of vandalism in the Natchez City Cemetery, Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said, adding any act of desecrating a gravesite is disheartening.

“Anyone who goes out and desecrates a grave or cemetery, whether it’s public or private, should be ashamed of themselves,” Grennell said. “… When people go out there and do damage to a grave, it’s sad and they should be penalized to the fullest extent of the law for it.”