O Tannenbaum! Who has taken you? Community tree is stolen from center


The grinch has struck Westview.

Sometime before sunrise yesterday, a 6-foot-tall live Christmas tree, decorated with homemade ornaments and lights and topped with a star, was chopped down and dragged off from the front of the Western Hills Community Park in Baltimore County.

Cindy Hinson said all they found yesterday morning was a stump where the tree had been, a couple of crushed ornaments and a trail of pine needles that led to the curb.

The tree theft was especially upsetting to the children and parents who decorated it Friday at the park south of Security Square Mall, and for whom the tree had a special significance: It was dedicated to Clare Hebert, a member of the recreation council who died of an aneurysm in June 1990.

Mrs. Hebert was a fixture for years at the volunteer-run recreation center, soliciting sponsors and running concessions for baseball and soccer programs.

"It was a tremendous blow to this whole community," said Peter Rifty, who attended Friday's tree lighting with his two children. "This is an insult. It's likely just teen-agers raising hell as usual, but nonetheless, it hurts."

Last fall, the recreation commission planted a pine tree in front of the recreation building and decorated it for the first time at Christmas. That tree was lost in the drought, and a second tree planted inthe same spot last month.

At Friday's second annual tree decorating, Brownies and Girl Scouts hung ornaments and families caroled as Mrs. Hebert's 12-year-old son, Gregory, threw the switch that illuminated 400 lights. "It was really pretty, there were red bows and lots of pretty ornaments," said 11-year-old Julie Watts.

And then yesterday morning, as people passed the park on their way to school or work, they noticed the tree was not there. Even before the center opened, it began getting calls on its answering machine.

"I had seen that it was gone, and I was wondering about it with my friends," Julie said. "It was really sad . . . it meant a lot to a lot of people."

"It was a matter of convenience for someone," Mrs. Hinson, a member of the recreation council, said. "Really, all they have to do is stick it in a tree stand in their living room and plug it in and they're ready to go."

A new tree has already been donated by a nursery in Catonsville, and the commissioner of the soccer program is donating new lights. But this is the second act of vandalism in three weeks -- during Thanksgiving weekend, 15 recently planted maple saplings were broken in half -- and that has frustrated residents.

"You set these things up," Mrs. Hinson said. "And somebody can come by and with two whacks of an ax, they can just destroy it."

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