(DENVER) — A monument honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., created by the nation’s first African American NASA astronaut candidate, was vandalized in a Denver park this week by perpetrators who pried off a large bronze plaque and other pieces from the statue’s pedestal, authorities said.

The damage to the “I Have a Dream” monument in City Park occurred in the middle of Black History Month and was discovered Wednesday morning by a concerned citizen, according to Vern Howard, chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Colorado Holiday Commission.

Howard, who was the project manager on the monument, told ABC News Thursday he suspects the vandalism and theft was a “coordinated effort,” saying the largest piece taken from the monument was too heavy to have been carried off by a single individual.

He said that while some people he has spoken to about the incident believe the parts were taken to be sold on the black market, he suspects the crime was racially motivated.

“I believe that it was more sinister than what may meet the eye,” said Howard.

Howard said Denver is full of bronze art, including five other bronze statues in City Park that would have been easier to steal.

“The Dr. King monument is lit at night, the lights are on. And the Dr. King monument is also on the main thoroughfare as you go through the park,” Howard said. “Well, guess what? There are other monuments in City Park that are not lit. They are literally in the dark. So, it’s a heck of a lot more daring and challenging to go after the Dr. King monument.”

The Denver Police Department Bias Motivated Crime Unit has launched an investigation and police are asking for the public’s help in catching the culprits.

The city of Denver commissioned sculptor Ed Dwight, the first African American NASA astronaut candidate, to create the monument, which also features bronze statues of Frederick Douglass, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth.

“Obviously, I’m extremely disappointed. But it was sitting there waiting to be vandalized,” the 90-year-old Dwight told ABC News on Thursday, citing the lack of security cameras or other means to protect the monument.

Dwight estimated the large bronze plaque stolen from the monument weighs more than 200 pounds. The plaque depicts African Americans who served in the United States military from the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War.

Two smaller bronze pieces pried off and taken from the monument were of a unity torch and choir lady.

“It’s one of my big successes in my body of work,” said Dwight, who lives in Denver. “It attracts people from all over the world that come here just to see this memorial. So for somebody to come and vandalize it is just disgusting to tell you the truth.”

Dwight said the stolen bronze plaque is curved at the same radius as the pedestal and will be difficult to replace because the molds he used to create it no longer exist.

Howard said the entire monument is valued at $3 million and that the swiped plaque is worth about $75,000.

“This will not deter us. We will continue to march. We will continue to seek justice. We will continue to seek love,” Howard said.

In late January, a bronze statue of Jackie Robinson, the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers player who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947, was stolen from a park in Wichita, Kansas. The Robinson statue, which had been cut off at the ankles, was later found dismantled and burned in a trash can. A 45-year-old man was arrested and charged with felony theft valued at more than $25,000, aggravated criminal damage to property, identity theft and making false information, according to the Wichita Police Department.

Police said they are “very confident” that the theft of the Robinson statue was not a race-related crime, but that it was stolen for the potential financial value of the metal. Investigators are still trying to identify other individuals involved in the theft.

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