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Unseen, new MLK signs unbolted

As city officials expected, some street signs were discovered stolen Wednesday from along the newly named Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.

Where they were stolen from took officials by surprise. The King signs were taken from the avenue's intersections with 20th Street, Airport Road, South Avenue and Chancey Road, near predominantly black neighborhoods where the movement to rename the street began.

The signs were not knocked down with baseball bats, police said. They were carefully removed, bolt by bolt.

Those facts have police Capt. Randy Belasic thinking this might not be a case of vandalism.

"My first impression is that they're hanging somewhere on somebody's wall," Belasic said.

City officials were prepared for possible vandalism since the signs went up early this month. The renaming of Sixth Avenue for Martin Luther King Jr. exploded into a divisive battle after longtime resident and activist Irene Dobson first approached the City Council with a petition last fall. Residents, largely divided along racial lines, reacted strongly to the renaming, including almost 500 people who signed a petition opposing it. After two votes, City Council members made the name change final.

Dobson chuckled at the idea of someone taking the signs for keepsakes. "I tell you, they really want a souvenir," she said. "Well, anyway, you just have to keep putting them up."

Police have no witnesses, no evidence and no suspects. It's unknown when the signs were last seen atop their poles.

The loss to the city was $260.80. City Manager Steve Spina said late Wednesday that four in-house signs already had been hung to replace the missing ones.