PEARL RIVER- Christmas is still three months away, but the Grinch has already arrived.
Four teens have been arrested in connection with the damage of dozens of Christmas trees over the past month. Authorities say a fifth suspect is cooperating with authorities.
"They destroyed 63 trees. We just got through taking inventory," said Shady Pond Tree Farm Owner Clarke Gernon.
The process was a painful one for Gernon because his family has invested decades into growing more than 14,000 trees across the property in Pearl River. To see the lives of dozens of trees literally snapped in half by vandals, identified as four area teenagers, has been heartbreaking.
"This is, in my view, contempt for mother nature. These trees are living things," said Gernon. "It's contempt for our traditions. It's an assault on Christmas."
The second mystery in this case, aside from who was doing it, was how they were doing it. Investigators determined the kids were finding areas in the fields that had a lot of space, and using it to run toward the trees to tackle them like football dummies. The way detectives were able to figure that out was after the first attack which occurred around Labor Day. The Timber Enforcement Division of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry then came out and installed cameras throughout the field. The cameras caught Sunday's attack clearly.
"To do this over and over and over again is absurd and it's a display of stunning ignorance," said Gernon.
Though the damage totals almost $6,000, Gernon says the business will have no problem continuing to serve the community at Christmas while contributing to the movie industry and research the rest of the year.
However, what he's hoping does change after this incident is the level of respect for trees and the understanding of consequences for disrespecting them.
The pending charges against the 16 and 17-year-olds range from felony and misdemeanor simple criminal damage to criminal trespassing.
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