OLYMPIA — While many consider the story of birth of Jesus in a manger as the reason for the season, the abductors have never cared.
But this week’s situation at the Washington Capitol was unique: somebody made off with the figurine of Mary, mother of Jesus.
The 3-foot-tall figurine disappeared sometime around Monday in the Nativity scene that faces Capitol Way South, as The Olympian first reported.
The Wesselius family’s Nativity scene — first displayed in 2007 — played a role in holiday conflicts over showing religious symbols in the Capitol’s public spaces. In years past, the family endured thefts of baby Jesus figurines from their three-piece Nativity.
Despite those early-on Jesus heists, this week’s was the first disturbance in a few years.
It’s surprising for Mary to go missing, said Nic Wesselius, who this year took over from his father as the Nativity scene’s sponsor.
“It would take a lot of guts to walk away with her,” said Wesselius, an 18-year-old student studying political science at Corban University in Salem, Oregon.
For Wesselius, the Nativity scene “is really a symbol of hope” that could potentially “plant a seed” for the people happening by it. He also called it a good reminder in a season some consider over-commercialized.
Spokespersons for the state Department of Enterprise Services (DES) and the Washington State Patrol, which oversee the Capitol campus, said they had been alerted to the disappearance. But Sgt. Darren Wright of the State Patrol said a formal report had not been filed with his agency as of Wednesday afternoon.
The figurine was most likely taken between Sunday night and early Monday morning, DES spokeswoman Linda Kent wrote in an email.
Without any leads, it’s impossible to know why Mary was taken. Perhaps the figurine was taken as religious protest. Perhaps it was nothing more than a random prank.
Wesselius said he doesn’t know who might have taken the figurine, but he saw it as a First Amendment issue, since a banner planted nearby from the Freedom From Religion Foundation appeared undisturbed.
“I think it’s important to respect everyone’s beliefs,” he said.
A real-estate agent and resident of nearby Tumwater, Nic’s father Ron Wesselius told The Olympian that the last couple years have been “really nice and quiet,” with no figures taken.
In other years, however, Ron Wesselius, who sponsored the Nativity for the past decade or so, said Jesus disappeared so many times that the family ran through all the figures they had, then ran through a manufacturer’s replacements.
Now the family buys dolls from Goodwill to use for Jesus — and tie him down to better secure him.
The Capitol’s Nativity scene was born from conflict. In 2005 and 2006, spats brewed over the naming or display of trees at the Capitol and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
In 2006, Ron Wesselius saw a menorah on display inside the Capitol building and wanted to erect a Nativity scene there, according to news reports at the time. The state denied him, saying he had applied too late for the issue to be researched.
So Ron Wesselius filed a lawsuit, ultimately settling with the state, and set up a Nativity scene the next year.
By 2008, a group of agnostics and atheists were displaying their own sign, which at the time read in part: “Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
A sign bearing similar sentiment this year — the one Nic Wesselius noticed went untouched — sits just yards away from the Nativity scene. It reads in part: “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell.”
After this week’s theft, the Wesselius family considered swapping in a replacement Mary. Since they have only a few days left on their display permit, they likely won’t, according to Nic Wesselius.
But the theft won’t deter the family from bringing it back next year — possibly with a new Nativity structure.
In a text Wednesday, Nic Wesselius wrote he had “no plans on stopping any time soon.”