STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP/ABC7) -The famed statue of Joe Paterno was taken down from outside the Penn State football stadium Sunday, eliminating a key piece of the iconography surrounding the once-sainted football coach accused of burying child sex abuse allegations against a retired assistant.
Workers lifted the statue off its base and used a forklift to move it into Beaver Stadium as the 100 to 150 students watching chanted, "We are Penn State."
The university announced earlier Sunday that it was taking down the monument in the wake of an investigative report that found the late coach and three other top Penn State administrators concealed sex abuse claims against retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
A spokeswoman for the Paterno family did not immediately return phone and email messages Sunday morning.
Construction vehicles and police arrived shortly after dawn Sunday, barricading the street and sidewalks near the statue, erecting a chain-link fence then concealing the statue with a blue tarp.
Penn State President Rod Erickson said he decided to have the statue removed and put into storage because it "has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing."
"I believe that, were it to remain, the statue will be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been the victims of child abuse," Erickson said in a statement released at 7 a.m. Sunday.
He said Paterno's name will remain on the campus library because it "symbolizes the substantial and lasting contributions to the academic life and educational excellence that the Paterno family has made to Penn State University."
The bronze sculpture outside Beaver Stadium has been a rallying point for students and alumni outraged over Paterno's firing four days after Sandusky's Nov. 5 arrest - and grief-stricken over the Hall of Fame coach's Jan. 22 death at age 85.
But it turned into a target for critics after the Freeh report's stunning allegation of a cover-up by Paterno, ousted President Graham Spanier and two Penn State officials, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz. Their failure to report Sandusky to child-welfare authorities in 2001 allowed him to continue molesting boys, the report found.
Paterno's family, along with attorneys for Spanier, Curley and Schultz, vehemently deny any suggestion they protected a pedophile. Curley and Schultz await trial on charges of failing to report child abuse and lying to a grand jury but maintain their innocence. Spanier hasn't been charged. Sandusky was convicted last month of 45 counts of sexual abuse of 10 boys.
Some newspaper columnists and former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden have said the statue should be taken down, while a small plane pulled a banner over State College reading, "Take the statue down or we will."
But Paterno still has plenty of fans, and Penn State's decision to remove the monument won't sit well with them. One student even vowed to "chain myself to that statue" if there was an attempt to remove it.
University officials had called the issue a sensitive one in light of Paterno's enormous contributions to the school over a 61-year coaching career. The Paterno family is well-known in the community for philanthropic efforts, including the millions of dollars they've donated to the university to help build a library and fund endowments and scholarships.
The statue, nearly 7 feet tall and weighing more than 900 pounds, was built in 2001 in honor of Paterno's record-setting 324th Division 1 coaching victory and his "contributions to the university."
In a statement released on the school's website, President Rodney Erickson says, in part:
"...With the release of Judge Freeh's Report of the Special Investigative Counsel, we as a community have had to confront a failure of leadership at many levels. The statue of Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium has become a lightning rod of controversy and national debate, including the role of big time sports in university life. The Freeh Report has given us a great deal to reflect upon and to consider, including Coach Paterno's legacy...
I fully realize that my decision will not be popular in some Penn State circles, but I am certain it is the right and principled decision. I believe we have chosen a course that both recognizes the many contributions that Joe Paterno made to the academic life of our University, while taking seriously the conclusions of the Freeh Report and the national issue of child sexual abuse. Today, as every day, our hearts go out to the victims."
Paterno's family issued this statement in response to the statue's removal:
"Tearing down the statue of Joe Paterno does not serve the victims of Jerry Sandusky's horrible crimes or help heal the Penn State Community. We believe the only way to help the victims is to uncover the full truth. The Freeh report, though it has been accepted by the media as the definitive conclusion on the Sandusky scandal, is the equivalent of an indictment - a charging document written by a prosecutor - and an incomplete and unofficial one at that.
To those who truly want to know the truth about Sandusky, it should matter that Joe Paterno has never had a hearing; that his legal counsel has never been able to interview key witnesses, all of whom are represented by lawyers and therefore unavailable; that there has never been an opportunity to review critical evidence which has not been made public; that selective evidence and the opinion of Mr Freeh is treated as the equivalent of a fair trial. Despite this obviously flawed and one-sided presentation, the University believes it must acquiesce and accept that Joe Paterno has been given a fair and complete hearing. We think the better course would have been for the University to take a strong stand in support of due process so that the complete truth can be uncovered.
It is not the University's responsibility to defend or protect Joe Paterno. But they at least should have acknowledged that important legal cases are still pending and that the record on Joe Paterno, the Board and other key players is far from complete ."