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Hokie Bird stolen from Blacksburg childcare center

Hokie Bird stolen from Blacksburg childcare center (Image 1) (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

BLACKSBURG (WSLS 10) - Everyone on Virginia Tech's campus seems to be really disappointed that it happened again; Petunia the Hokie Bird statue is gone.

You'll often find people taking their picture with one of the 5-foot statues and the kids and parents at Rainbow Riders Child Care Center are no different.

Brooke and Jillian Spieldenner walk into Rainbow Riders in Blacksburg, their routine now changed.

"I wasn't quite sure so I kind of kept it quiet and I asked the office if Petunia happen to go on a walk or needed to be fixed," said Brooke, mother and Rainbow Riders teacher.

Petunia, the fiberglass Hokie Bird they greet morning and night, the bird who Jillian posed with for last year's Christmas card was gone. Only a foot remains after someone broke it from its base.

"It's, in a way, it's their first encounter with injustice," said Rainbow Riders Director Kristi Snyder talking about the kids who come to Rainbow Riders.

Snyder says it's upsetting because Petunia was part of the community. Kids enrolled at the center nine years ago, along with elementary and middle school students across the area, named, designed and decorated the more than 200 flowers painted on the 5-foot statue.

"It was very much a community-building experience," she said.

It was also an experience in loss they've dealt with before. In 2007, Petunia was knocked down, but left behind.

Petunia is one of 13 birds vandalized and one of four stolen since the Gobble de Art project launched in 2006, according to Blacksburg Police. The program was launched in an effort to promote visual arts in the community and to celebrate the spirit of the Virginia Tech mascot, the Hokie Bird.

More than 75 birds were commissioned. Many were sold as part of a fundraiser for Quality of Life in Blacksburg. Petunia sold for $6,900 at auction.

Today, you can find dozens of whimsical birds displayed around town. Some are indoors to prevent theft and others prominently perched outside of businesses or homes.

Students, even those not here when Petunia arrived at Rainbow Riders, want justice.

Rainbow Riders Director Lisa Martin told teachers and students of Thursday's theft. 

"He said 'We have got to call the police we have to call the army,'" she recalled one student say. "So even getting the military involved was important."

Other students just try to understand.

"Our friends are just wondering what kind of adventure she went on. And hopefully she'll have some really great stories when she gets back," said mother, Brooke Spieldenner.

"Maybe when she gets back she'll have a note on her with everything she did," suggested Jillian.

They're hopeful the whimsical bird built to bring attention to the arts finds its way back and brings attention to how much it means to the people who pass by here and all over town looking for them every day.

Blacksburg Police are investigating the theft. Investigators say the crime is considered a felony since the value of the statute exceeds $200.

No arrests have been made.