$25,000 reward offered for information on stolen bronze plaques honoring L.A. teachers

When Vandana Kumar's family visited her in Los Angeles, they always stopped at a bronze plaque embedded in a Woodland Hills sidewalk that honored her 25 years as a science teacher at Canoga Park High School.

Her family posed for photos with the plaque, which was installed in 2018, as if it were a part of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And then, within the last few weeks, it was ripped out — most likely by someone seeking to sell it for scrap metal, officials said.

"It bothered me — I won't lie," Kumar, 60, said of the theft.

She is one of 11 teachers whose honorary plaques have been ripped from a Victory Boulevard sidewalk in Woodland Hills over the last month. Los Angeles City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield announced a $25,000 reward this week for information leading to an arrest in the thefts.

"It's not about my plaque," Kumar said. "It's about somebody having the audacity" to steal something built to honor teachers, she said.

Blumenfield's office said in a statement Thursday that the theft "has created significant sidewalk damage, as well as the loss of these landmarks that are both financially valuable and meaningful to the surrounding community."

Multiple plaques are installed each year by the Walk of Hearts Foundation, a nonprofit organization that honors exceptional teachers in the Valley.

Each plaque is worth about $4,000 and weighs about 40 pounds, Los Angeles Police Capt. Rodolfo Lopez said.

Lopez said video captured someone stealing four plaques in one night, but the footage was too blurry for facial recognition technology to identify them. Seven more plaques disappeared over the next few weeks, and Lopez said the department believes the thefts are connected.

Local metal scrap vendors have been alerted to the thefts and were told to contact police if someone came in to sell the plaques, Lopez said.

The Los Angeles area has recently seen an increase in thefts of metal objects, including those made of copper and bronze, that can be sold for scrap.

The 6th Street Viaduct's famous lights recently went dark after thieves stole the bridge's copper wiring. More than 100 plaque thefts have been reported from two cemeteries in Carson and Compton, and a bronze newsboy statue in MacArthur Park was stolen.

Joseph Andrews, the founder of the Walk of Hearts Foundation, said in an email that the thefts from Woodland Hills "violated the community in many ways." The person responsible has "stolen not just a bronze plaque," he said, but "a piece of a teacher's legacy."

In total, the stolen plaques were worth about $44,000, not including the cost of sidewalk repairs.

Kumar retired last year from Canoga Park High and said the plaque was part of her legacy. As a Hindu, she will be cremated when she dies, she said, so the plaque was a physical reminder of who she was — so much so that she used to joke with her principal, "when you see flowers on my plaque, you'll know I'm gone."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.