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Columbus statue vandalized; future remains in limbo

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As movements to remove Christopher Columbus statues take place across the country, Walla Walla’s own monument dating to 1911 was vandalized late Tuesday.

One person egged and spray-painted “stolen land” and “genocide” on the 7-foot-tall statue of Columbus at the Walla Walla County Courthouse entrance at 11:55 p.m. Tuesday, according to Walla Walla County Undersheriff Joe Klundt. A deputy was assigned to investigate the case, he said.

A 15-minute surveillance video, taken from the courthouse, caught the suspect, Klundt said. However, he said he couldn’t provide the footage to the U-B.

The act follows an online petition to take down the statue, “reputedly the oldest” on the West Coast, at Change.org., and organized by Sam Aparicio.

As of this morning, nearly 1,600 had signed the petition, short of a goal for 2,500 signatures.

The statue was privately funded by 98 Italian immigrant families, according to historical archives, as extensive Italian immigration likely started around 1870. Many of those people’s names are inscribed on the statue, and their descendants still live in the Walla Walla Valley. A parade unveiled the gift to the county on Oct. 12, 1911.

Thousands attended the dedication, according to Italian Heritage Association of Walla Walla President Sherry Keller, whose great-uncle’s name, A. (Augustine) Torretta, is on the statue. She declined to comment on the current situation, but said the association will meet tonight to form a statement to send to Walla Walla County commissioners.

Besides the petition, 10 emails have been sent so far to commissioners urging removal of the statue that opponents say glorifies a figure whose arrival sparked genocide for Indigenous people.

Commissioners have yet to address the statue’s future, according to Clerk Diane Harris. She said none of the commissioners were available to talk this morning.

One of the emails sent to the city and county said the statue should be removed because “it is a monument to oppression and racism and, while this does track with Walla Walla’s history, it is beyond the time that Columbus stop representing the pride of this state and country. As statues of slaveholders and perpetrators of genocide are being removed around the country and the world, I ask that the city of Walla Walla follow suit. It is the first step in confronting the past of racism and brutality that Walla Walla holds.”

It was unclear this morning when county officials might discuss the statue, Harris said.

Emily Thornton can be reached at emilythornton@wwub.com or 509-526-8325.

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