Employees of Samaritan Family Health Center in Payson arrived at work Wednesday morning and immediately noticed something missing: During the night, a thief crept onto the property, chopped down a 16-foot blue spruce evergreen and hauled it away.
"It was devastating," said Shannon Hounshell, Samaritan's practice administrator. "That tree had been in the ground for a little over 10 years."
Standing over what remained of the tree, Hounshell said it was obvious that someone figured it would make a nice Christmas tree, and helped themselves to it.
Payson Police officer Dean Faust, who was called to investigate the theft, said the tree may have been cut down with a manual saw.
"A chain saw would have made too much noise, and would have left sawdust on the ground," he said. "This was a very clean cut."
Since the medical center is surrounded by asphalt parking lots, Faust said, there was little evidence.
"Unless someone heard something, or knows who has the tree and is willing to help us in the investigation, there's not much chance we'll find the suspects," he said.
If suspects are identified, they could face felony theft charges, which applies when criminal damages exceed $250.
"We're estimating to replace the tree it would cause about $600," Faust said.
Anyone with information about the health center's missing blue spruce can call the Payson Police Department at 474-5177.