Mariposa Mining and Mineral museum reopens after robbery

11/12/2012 5:45 PM

11/13/2012 1:48 AM

The California State Mining and Mineral Museum is open again after a September robbery of about $2 million in gold and gems prompted its closure.

Though the culprits haven't been caught, Friday's reopening brought some relief and cheers from local officials, including the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors.

District 3 Supervisor Janet Bibby, whose district borders the museum, said the site puts the area's history in perspective and serves as a resource for the public.

"All the supervisors are happy that it's open because the students visiting our area depend on it and families depend on it," she noted. "It's our historic heritage."

While the museum was closed, the California Department of Parks and Recreation used the downtime to make repairs to the damaged display cases, doors and other items. Security has been tightened, too.

Bibby is hoping someone will come forward with information that will lead authorities to the robbers. The California Highway Patrol is handling the investigation.

"It was hugely offensive that someone would target a community of our size," she said.

Though about $2 million worth of artifacts were stolen, one of the museum's most prized pieces -- a 14-pound hunk of gold called the Fricot Nugget -- wasn't taken.

The thieves tried to steal the piece, but it was too heavy to lift as they made their two-minute heist, according to authorities.

Dressed in black and wearing hoods to conceal their identities, the robbers were armed with pickaxes as they threatened a guide and curator before entering the museum's vault about 4 p.m. Sept. 28.

Investigators have said there may have been more than two robbers involved.

Before the robbery, the multimillion-dollar collection was threatened with closure because of state budget shortfalls, but when $54 million of unaccounted state park funds were found, closure was staved off.

A news release from the state parks department earlier this month said the public is once again able to view most of the museum's collection, but some artifacts won't be on display, pending the outcome of the robbery investigation.

Though no one from the CHP could comment on the status of the investigation by the Sun-Star's deadline, the state's news release confirmed that no arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing.

Anyone with information about the theft should call the CHP at (559) 277-7250.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday at 5005 Fairgrounds Road in Mariposa.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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