Two Brookings teenage girls were cited for theft and criminal mischief after they were caught on video taking the baby Jesus doll from the manger scene at Azalea Park and scribbling profanity on it, authorities said.
The criminal activity was just the latest in a string of incidents reported at the Nature's Coastal Holiday light display since before it opened on Dec. 1.
"We have a lot of video surveillance coverage at the park and we were able to identify the suspects right away," said Brookings Police Lt. Donny Dotson.
Four teenage girls were at Azalea Park at 3:45 p.m. Monday when two of the girls, age 13 and 14, decided to take the doll. The girls returned it a short time later, at which time they used a black marker to write profanity and a mustache on the doll, Dotson said.
The vandalism was reported by volunteers at the light display at 5:30 p.m. Police reviewed video taken by one of 14 cameras at the park and were able to identify several of the girls by 6 p.m., Dotson.
"The video quality is excellent," he said.
Two of the girls confessed to police later that evening, he said. The girls will likely appear in juvenile court, get possible probation and "cost their parents some money," he said.
Dotson added, "It's sad that we have to have cameras in the park to prevent this type of thing from happening, but if we didn't, it would be the end of Nature's Coastal Holiday."
There are several permanent video cameras in the park, but additional cameras were installed in the last week when volunteers reported prior to the display opening that vandals were unplugging and removing lights.
"We put cameras in known trouble spots," Dotson said.
He empathized with the dozens of volunteers who worked hard to string the 450,000-plus lights, wire sculptures and decorations at Azalea Park.
"It's got to be frustrating for them, after all that hard work," he said.
Dave Kitchen, coordinator of this year's Nature's Coastal Holiday, said about $250 in vandalism was done to the display in the days leading up to the Dec. 1 opening.
He took some satisfaction in hearing about the girls' arrests.
"I'm glad the video caught this group of teenagers," he said. "People need to know that we're keeping an eye out."
Dotson said news of the girls' arrest and the video cameras is already circulating around town.
"The word is getting out," he said. "Hopefully people will get the message and leave Nature's Coastal Holiday alone. It's a joy for a lot of people who like to go and visit it."
Although the baby Jesus doll remains in police custody as evidence, a second doll has been placed in the manger, Kitchen said.