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Published: 6/15/2010

Ohio Jesus statue struck by lightning, destroyed

This file photo shows traffic on I-75 just north of Monroe, Ohio, going by a six-story high statue of Jesus under construction at the Solid Rock Church. This file photo shows traffic on I-75 just north of Monroe, Ohio, going by a six-story high statue of Jesus under construction at the Solid Rock Church.
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MONROE, Ohio — A six-story-tall statue of Jesus Christ with his arms raised along a highway was struck by lightning in a thunderstorm Monday night and burned to the ground, police said.

The “King of Kings” statue, one of southwest Ohio's most familiar landmarks, had stood since 2004 at the evangelical Solid Rock Church along Interstate 75 in Monroe, just north of Cincinnati.

The lightning strike set the statue ablaze around 11:15 p.m., Monroe police dispatchers said.

The sculpture, 62 feet tall and 40 feet wide at the base, showed Jesus from the torso up and was nicknamed Touchdown Jesus because of the way his arms were raised, as though reaching out to catch a football. It was made of plastic foam and fiberglass over a steel frame, which is all that remained early Tuesday.

The fire spread from the statue to an adjacent amphitheater but was confined to the attic area, and no one was injured, police Chief Mark Neu said. The fire department would release a monetary damage estimate Tuesday, he said.

Travelers on Interstate 75 often were startled to come upon the huge statue by the roadside, but many said America needs more symbols like it. So many people stopped at the church campus that church officials had to build a walkway to accommodate them.

The 4,000-member, nondenominational church was founded by former horse trader Lawrence Bishop and his wife. Bishop said in 2004 he was trying to help people, not impress them, with the statue. He said his wife proposed the Jesus figure as a beacon of hope and salvation and they spent about $250,000 to finance it.

The storm system also spun off funnel clouds and left flooding and power outages.

The National Weather Service says no tornado touchdowns were reported in Monday night's rough weather, but funnel clouds were spotted near downtown Cincinnati and in nearby Butler County.

Up to 2 inches of rain fell per hour in parts of western and southwest Ohio. The weather service says 6 inches of rain collected on state Route 185 in Miami County.

More than 16,000 Duke Energy customers had no power just after midnight Tuesday. By dawn, service had been restored to all but about 1,200.

Fire from lightning burned down a church's iconic, six-story Jesus statue along Interstate 75 just north of Cincinnati.



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