Joe Paterno

GONE: Joe Paterno statue removed

The sun sets over Beaver Stadium as visitors stop by the site where the Joe Paterno's statue was on Sunday, July 22, 2012.  Abby Drey / CENTRE DAILY TIMES
The sun sets over Beaver Stadium as visitors stop by the site where the Joe Paterno's statue was on Sunday, July 22, 2012. Abby Drey / CENTRE DAILY TIMES

As the sun rose, the Joe Paterno statue fell.

Early Sunday morning, before many residents woke, Penn State workers armed with jackhammers and a forklift removed the controversial statue from its place next to Beaver Stadium.

After the covered and padded statue went into the stadium — to be moved to an unnamed “secure location” — workers took down the Paterno quotation and plaques from the monument’s stone wall.

In a statement early Sunday, Penn State President Rodney Erickson said the “statue of Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium has become a lightning rod of controversy and national debate, including the role of big-time sports in university life.”

Newly elected trustee Anthony Lubrano said Sunday he had no prior knowledge that the statue was to come down Sunday morning.

“I was expecting that Dr. Erickson was going to issue a statement, and that statement would be a precursor,” Lubrano said.

Lubrano said it appeared Erickson had already made the decision prior to the release of the statement.

Shortly after dawn, 30 university and municipal police officers arrived, along with workers clad in white hard hats and a flatbed truck carrying chain link fence segments and blue tarps.

Police closed off Porter Road from Curtin Road to Park Avenue, then officers formed a line across the road to keep people at bay.

Workers built the fence around the 7-foot tall, 900-pound statue, draped tarps and proceeded to take down the statue, mostly hidden from view. Once the job was done, police later pulled away the tarps and allowed spectators to see the empty nook.

Susan Lamey, of State College, watched from behind barriers on the opposite sidewalk, visibly upset.

She said Paterno, while not blameless in the university’s failure to stop convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky over the years, didn’t deserve to be vilified and made a scapegoat.

“It’s just another crime being committed,” Lamey said of the statue’s removal, “It’s just like what they want to do with the football team. They keep punishing the innocent. This is not solving the problem. This doesn’t fix anything.”

The NCAA will announce any punishments for the Penn State football program and the university today.

Lamey was among the onlookers Sunday saddened and angered by Penn State’s decision to dismantle the monument 10 days after former FBI director Louis Freeh issued a 267-page report that blasted the university’s leadership.

Penn State had commissioned Freeh to investigate whether Penn State administrators covered up Sandusky’s 2001 assault of a boy in a football building shower. Freeh concluded administrators, including former President Graham Spanier and Paterno, decided to not report Sandusky to avoid bad publicity for the university.

Freeh also criticized the university’s board of trustees, who fired Spanier and Paterno from their jobs in November, for their passivity and lack of oversights. Paterno died of cancer in January.

Sandusky, in jail and waiting to be sentenced, was convicted last month on 45 of 48 counts of sexually abusing boys he met through his charity, The Second Mile. Many of the crimes occurred after 2001.

After the Freeh report was made public, pressure mounted for the university to remove the Paterno statue, a noted landmark since its 2001 installation.

Last week, a plane owned by an Ohio advertising agency flew over State College with a banner demanding the statue’s removal, angering local residents. Fans flocked to the statue, and even Paterno family members visited Friday.

“I now believe that, contrary to its original intention, Coach Paterno’s statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing in our University and beyond,” Erickson said in a statement Sunday. “For that reason, I have decided that it is in the best interest of our university and public safety to remove the statue and store it in a secure location.

“I believe that, were it to remain, the statue would be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been victims of child abuse.”

But the Paternos in their own statement Sunday said the university acted hastily on the “incomplete” Freeh report’s “one-sided presentation,” and should have waited for more information about the late coach’s role in the scandal.

“Tearing down the statue of Joe Paterno does not serve the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s horrible crimes or help heal the Penn State community,” the statement said. “We believe the only way to help the victims is to uncover the full truth.”

Sunday’s crowd, which grew as the morning unfolded, sided with Paterno more than the university.

As jackhammers rattled, sending clouds of dust into the air, many on the sidewalk gazed with somber expressions or frowns. A few cried.

Penn State students Kevin Berkon, of Washington, D.C., and Mike Elliott, of Lancaster, had been camped out at the statue since Tuesday. During the work, they stood silently arm in arm with a female friend.

Berkon said he was “extremely disappointed” that Penn State took down the statue Sunday morning without talking to the public.

“JoePa means the world to a lot of students and they should have a right to be here,” he said.

Erickson’s statement did not explain why the date and time were picked.

On Tuesday, he said a decision on the statue was expected within seven to 10 days. Four days before, trustees Chairwoman Karen Peetz said the issue was sensitive and required community discussion.

Jill Byrne and Stefanie Yeager, both of State College, came to the statue after seeing media reports. Yeager said they were hoping to get one last photo of the monument.

“It’s a very sad day,” Yeager said. “I really think it’s a terrible thing to do without giving Penn Staters a chance (to give input).”

Jeremie Thompson, a Penn State senior from Brookville, woke up to email alerts on his cellphone and headed to the stadium.

“I feel it is really wrong,” he said. “The university is giving in to pressure instead of making its own decision.”

During the removal, spectators for the most part observed peacefully, taking photos, tweeting and talking quietly. Shortly after a forklift carried away the statue, a man started a “We are Penn State” chant. As soon as that finished, another man cried out, “We love you, Joe.”

Later, Mary Trometter, of Williamsport, voiced her opinion.

“Erickson is a coward,” she yelled toward the stadium. “The board of directors are cowards. What happened to the openness? This is an outrage. Where is the open policy?”

Trometter, whose son is entering Penn State this fall, said she felt “really sad.”

“I understand the controversy to leave it up, but to do this in such a sneaky way doesn’t make the university look any better,” she said. “I felt betrayed that this was not made public in an appropriate way, in a professional way, in a mature way.”

As part of his statement Sunday, Erickson said he feels “strongly” that Paterno Library should keep its name since “it remains a tribute to Joe and Sue Paterno’s commitment to Penn State’s student body and academic success.”

Trometter praised Erickson’s message in general, but criticized him for not delivering it in person.

“Regardless of my opinion about the statue, I was disappointed that Erickson didn’t have the courage to make his own statement (in person),” she said.

Michelle Souder, of Avondale, said the whole morning left her dismayed.

Souder and her husband, Michael, both 2001 Penn State graduates, took time from visiting family to check out the statue’s last hour. She held their 3-year-old son Ethan, who wore a little Nittany Lion jersey. He pushed a stroller with their 2-year-old daughter, Julia, inside in her Penn State cheerleader uniform.

“I think it’s terrible,” Michelle Souder said. “They’re taking one thing and ruining a 61-year career. He was a great man.”

Chris Stathes, of Bellefonte, said he thinks Paterno personally wouldn’t have cared if the statue came down. But as a Penn State parent, it mattered to him.

“I feel upset and sad,” he said. “What happened to the (victimized) kids happened. It’s a bad thing, but to take a statue down doesn’t change anything.”

Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631.