On three separate nights this month, vandals irreparably damaged the smiling Ronald McDonald statue that sat outside the Ronald McDonald House in Burlington, Vermont, burning and decapitating the clown.
"Isn't this sad?" said Kristine Bickford, the house's executive director, as she showed necn the ruined fiberglass body of the famous clown.
For years, Ronald occupied a bench outside the home, providing a comforting welcome to children and their families who need to be close to the University of Vermont Medical Center for vital care.
Bickford said vandals first burned the statue's face, then removed his head and cut his feet off with a saw. The head was discovered dumped near the city's waterfront, Bickford said.
"The kids were traumatized," Bickford said, noting volunteers had to move the remains of the statue into storage so the children wouldn't have to see it.
Bickford said she filed a police report, but acknowledged investigators won't have much to go on because the house is in a busy part of the city. Furthermore, the crimes happened at night, with no security cameras recording the area near the bench. Bickford said she is now investigating the possibility of installing security cameras.
Bickford said she suspects the vandalism was a prank, speculating the vandals were unaware of the mission of the charity where the clown once sat.
The Ronald McDonald House provides a comfortable and home-like setting for out-of-town families receiving vital medical care in Burlington, including cancer treatment. Wednesday, volunteers were at the house preparing dinner for the families there.
"I can't believe someone would try to do that," said Joshua Ramirez, 11, who was disappointed to hear about the vandalism.
Ramirez is from Indiana. He has a form of epilepsy and is in Vermont for brain activity monitoring. He said his family is glad for a low-cost place to stay.
"It provides a safe atmosphere," Ramirez said, noting that his appointments have required him to be hooked up to several sensors attached to his head, which he wore around the house at night. "If someone sees me inside here [with the medical devices attached], they're not going to make fun and they're going to support me."
"It's just not funny," said Fannie Hart, who has been staying at the house while her son, Xavier, receives treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Hart told necn she became angry when she woke up one recent morning to see someone had knocked off Ronald's head in the night. "It's the last place where you'd want to hurt someone," Hart said of the Ronald McDonald house.
Bickford estimated it will cost about $7,500 to buy a new statue. She said the house is waiting on an insurance claim.
But, from cruelty comes kindness, with GoFundMe donations now piling up to help buy the new statue. Bickford said the statue, once it arrives, will stay indoors to keep it safe from vandals.
"I plead to anybody who did do this act, that they would come down and maybe look and see what we have here and what it really means to come into this house," Bickford said. "And they might have second thoughts about what they did. And maybe they'd even donate some volunteer hours here."
Bickford said a common misconception is that customers at McDonald's restaurants fund the Vermont non-profit and places like it around the country by buying Big Macs and other meals. That is not true, she said, explaining the Ronald McDonald House is dependent on private and corporate donations, grants and the generosity of volunteers.
More information on the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Burlington, Vermont, is available online.