Arrest is made in vandalism of monument honoring MOH recipient Michael Murphy
By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 20, 2018
Police arrested a 14-year-old boy and charged him with vandalism on Friday after a memorial to a slain Navy SEAL and Medal of Honor recipient was found smashed to pieces at a Long Island lake.
New York state will pay to replace the stone, inscribed with the image of Lt. Michael P. Murphy and his Medal of Honor, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said earlier in the day. The new stone is expected to be nearly impossible to shatter.
Suffolk County Police said Friday in a Facebook post that the minor had been arrested at 3 a.m. in his Ronkonkoma home and charged with second degree criminal mischief, following an investigation into the damage at a park named for the fallen SEAL in Lake Ronkonkoma, where Murphy once worked as a lifeguard.
An earlier police post on Thursday included a photo showing the polished circular granite stone shattered into more than a dozen pieces.
Cuomo said in a statement he was “appalled and disgusted” by the vandalism, promising the state would fully fund the replacement.
“I hope this brings comfort to his family and community,” the governor said. “The people of this state and this nation owe Lieutenant Murphy a debt of gratitude, and I personally thank him for his service.”
Marcus Luttrell, a former Navy SEAL who served with Murphy and wrote about his heroism in his book “Lone Survivor,” also donated money for a replacement, said Murphy’s father Daniel Murphy, who got the call from the governor’s office about a replacement stone on Friday.
The original monument builder has said the granite disc will be made of a thicker slab to make it nearly “unbreakable,” he said.
Luttrell also offered to match a $2,500 reward the police had offered through Crime Stoppers for information leading to an arrest.
“Only a coward would do this,” Luttrell said of the vandalism in an Instagram post late Thursday, which included a photo of the damage.
More than 3,000 people had commented on Luttrell’s post by Friday afternoon, many expressing outrage or a desire to help raise money for a new plaque.
Michael Murphy, 29 and a native of nearby Patchogue, N.Y., was killed in Afghanistan’s Kunar province in late June 2005, during Operation Red Wings, which Luttrell barely survived.
After 30 or more enemy fighters besieged their four-man SEAL team, wounding all four, Murphy ignored his own injuries and fought “in the face of almost certain death” to gain a better position to call for help, according to his Medal of Honor citation. He exposed himself to direct enemy fire while maintaining his position to communicate his location and a request for support, continuing to engage the enemy until he was mortally wounded.
He was the first member of the Navy to earn the country’s highest military honor since the Vietnam War, and his sacrifice has been widely honored with memorials and tributes. Many veterans and others have taken to performing one of his favorite workouts, dubbed “Murph,” each Memorial Day.
His family operates a scholarship foundation in his name, and in 2011 his mother christened the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Michael Murphy on what would have been the SEAL’s 35th birthday.
The scholarship foundation was collecting donations for a replacement monument, board member Kim Niehaus said in an email to Stars and Stripes. Murphy “selflessly and willing gave his life … and does not deserve to be dishonored in death,” Niehaus said.
“The outpouring of support has been overwhelming,” said Daniel Murphy, who said donations had been coming from all over the country to refurbish the monument that had been built behind his son’s old lifeguard post. The younger Murphy also swam the lake’s 1.5-mile length during his time training to be a SEAL.
“It has some significance,” his father said of the site, known as Serenity Plaza.
But the memorial doesn’t just honor his son, who “was a team player from day one.” The many memorials are “never just about Michael,” he said.
The ship named in his honor, for example, “carries the spirit of all 19” Americans killed in Operation Red Wings — the keel plate is inscribed with all of their initials, and two rigid-hulled inflatable boats onboard were dubbed “Axe” and “Dietz” for Michael Murphy’s slain teammates, Petty Officers 2nd Class Matthew Axelson and Danny Dietz.
At Lake Ronkonkoma, an 8-foot black granite wall is inscribed with the names of the 18 other Americans killed in the operation, including eight other SEALs and eight crew members from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment who were on a helicopter that was shot down while coming to aid Murphy’s team.
After damage to the centerpiece stone was discovered, dozens of locals gathered at the lakeside, including a group of veterans, News12 in the Bronx, N.Y., reported.
“There’s no words to express the outrage that veterans feel about desecrating a veteran’s monument,” said George Stondell, commander of AMVETS Department of New York.
Michael Murphy’s mother was crying early Friday when she called his father to say that the damage felt to her “like they killed Michael all over again.”
Before word of the arrest was made public, Daniel Murphy said he would be surprised if the vandalism was personally aimed at his son. It was probably a kid “being stupid,” he said.
The 14-year-old boy was scheduled to be arraigned in family court on a later date, police said.
Navy file photo of SEAL Lt. Michael P. Murphy. A memorial to the Medal of Honor recipient in New York was vandalized recently.