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Divers recover 'Our Lady of the Lake' after Indian Lake tornado

Mar. 31—RUSSELS POINT — A nearly 20-foot tall statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary that's been missing since a March 14 tornado hit Indian Lake was recovered from the bottom of the lake Saturday.

Bill Quatman, president of the American Society of Ephesus, Inc., which owned the nicknamed "Our Lady of the Lake" religious statue and its shrine, said divers found "many pieces" of the fiberglass statue about 150 feet off shore.

"We are so excited to have her finally located, and just one day before Easter Sunday!" Quatman said in a press release. "We have had an overwhelming amount of interest from all over the world and many generous offers to help with the search or the cost to rebuild."

Local divers Jimmy Dawson, of Russells Point; Richard Martin, of Marysville; and Josh George, of Delaware, helped find the statue, which had been missing for nearly 16 days after the tornado that killed three people hit. Drone pilots Jeff Lang and Aaron Shirk also searched for the statue, which was built in 1964.

"Visibility was near zero, and drones could not locate her, so divers had to feel for the statue in the dark," Quatman said. "She was found about 150 feet off shore, after being blown off the concrete pedestal. She never touched the ground and must have flown 50-100 yards in the air. That would have been quite a sight to see!"

The statue pieces recovered included a fully intact head of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ.

The organization will announce plans later this year to rebuild a new statue at St. Mary's Point, the site of the previous Our Lady of Fatima Shrine, Quatman said. Demolition of the old concrete pedestal began Saturday, the same day crews found the pieces.

Quatman reiterated a request that any donations go toward the Logan County United Way's Tornado Relief Fund, available online at bit.ly/4av0uXb. ASE donated $25,000 to the relief fund to help other tornado victims.

The American Society of Ephesus is a local nonprofit foundation formed in 1955 and based in Lima. Its mission it to "promote a greater realization and appreciation of the teachings and wonders of God, to preserve and erect religious shrines and to restore and preserve the burial grounds of outstanding religious leaders."

The Our Lady of Fatima Shrine was one of the tallest statues of the Virgin Mary in the United States, with a 43-foot tall monument, including the 19-foot, 6-inch statue. Quatman said he heard from people all over the world, including the mayor of Fatima, Portugal, who visited the shrine in August 2018 and whose city is the site of an apparition of Mary in May 1917.

The property, at 261 Chase Ave., is closed to the public during its reconstruction, once plans are put together for a replacement shrine.

"We will rebuild, no doubt about it. But it is going to take some time," Quatman said. "We want to do it right, so that it lasts at least another 60 years."