STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — The famed statue of Joe Paterno was taken down from outside the Penn State football stadium Sunday as the NCAA announced it would be issuing sanctions against the university whose top officials were accused in a scathing report of burying child sex abuse allegations against a now-convicted retired assistant.
Workers lifted the 7-foot-tall statue off its base and used a forklift to move it into Beaver Stadium as the 100 to 150 students watched, some chanting, "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 Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky was convicted last month of 45 counts of sexual abuse of 10 boys.
Meanwhile, the NCAA said that that it would levy "corrective and punitive measures" against Penn State over the Sandusky scandal. The organization announced Sunday that it would spell out the sanctions on Monday but disclosed no details.
NCAA President Mark Emmert hasn't ruled out the possibility of shutting down the Penn State football program in the wake of the scandal, adding that he had "never seen anything as egregious."
The Paterno family issued a statement only hours later saying the statue's removal "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," said the family, which vowed its own investigation following the release of the report by former FBI director Louis Freeh. The family called the report "the equivalent of an indictment — a charging document written by a prosecutor — and an incomplete and unofficial one at that."
Paterno's widow, Sue, and two of the Paternos' children visited the statue Friday as students and fans lined up to get their pictures taken with the landmark. The statue, weighing more than 900 pounds, was built in 2001 in honor of Paterno's record-setting 324th Division I coaching victory and his "contributions to the university."
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.
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. Workers then used jackhammers to free the statue and a forklift to lower it onto a flat-bed truck that rolled into stadium garage bay about 100 feet away.
Many of those watching the removal stared in disbelief and at least one woman wept, while others expressed anger at the decision.
"I think it was an act of cowardice on the part of the university," Mary Trometter of Williamsport, who wore a shirt bearing Joe Paterno's image. She said she felt betrayed by university officials, saying they promised openness but said nothing about the decision until just before the removal work began.
Dozens later gathered to watch and listen to the sound of sawing, scraping and shoveling as white-helmeted workers behind tarpaulins removed Paterno's name and various plaques from the walls behind where the statue had stood. Shortly before midday, all that appeared to remain was the bare concrete and stone.
Much of the work was hidden by blue tarps strung across temporary chain link fences while barricades kept observers on the other side of the street. Few watching said they understood the decision and feared what kind of punishment the NCAA would pile on.
Derek Leonard, 31, a university construction project coordinator who grew up in the area, said the construction workers on the project told him it was like watching a funeral when the statue was lowered onto the truck and then rolled away. He didn't completely agree with the decision but worried more that the NCAA would shut down the football program.
"It's going to kill our town," he said.
Richard Hill, 67, West Chester, a Penn State alumnus, said, "If you punish the football program or Joe Paterno — they're tied together — this town is going to suffer. The revenue does an awful lot to keep this town viable and lively."
Colby Walk, 40, who grew up in the Penn State area, wondered why an NCAA punishment was necessary, given the criminal charges, officials fired or forced out, Paterno's death and now the statue's removal.
"It's kind like we already have the death penalty," he said, referring to the worry that the NCAA would shut down the Penn State football program.
Diane Byerly, who traveled from Harrisburg in the morning when she heard the statue was coming down, wondered if the university was trying to make a symbolic gesture in hopes of lessening the NCAA's penalty.
"Maybe it was an olive branch," said Byerly, 63, a onetime season ticket holder whose father and son went to Penn State. "Maybe they'll go softer on us."
The university president 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 statue's sculptor, Angelo Di Maria, said he was upset to hear that the statue had been taken down.
"It's like a whole part of me is coming down. It's just an incredibly emotional process," he said.
"When things quiet down, if they do quiet down, I hope they don't remove it permanently or destroy it," Di Maria said. "His legacy should not be completely obliterated and thrown out. ... He was a good man. It wasn't that he was an evil person. He made a mistake."
The bronze sculpture had 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 Freeh's report alleged 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.
Associated Press writer Ron Todt in Philadelphia contributed to this report.