UPDATED AT 11:20 AM
Like their species itself, several American chestnut trees planted by Pitman, NJ fifth graders have vanished.
Borough police reported that an undetermined number of young trees were removed July 6 from the grounds of Elwood Kindle School on Washington Avenue.
Students at the school are participating in a project to restore the American chestnut (which was Pitman's "official tree") as part of the Disney Planet Challenge.
Once common in New Jersey and elsewhere in the eastern United States, American chestnuts were virtually wiped out by an invasive fungal blight introduced via non-native chestnut trees planted in New York City in 1904.
Most of the nation's four billion chestnut trees were gone by the time Glenn Miller had a hit with "The Chestnut Tree" in 1939.
But blight-resistant hybrids have been developed and are being re-introduced in places where this magnificent species once reigned.
"What kind of people would steal trees children planted?" asks Bob Williams, a certified forester who works in Glassboro and is the producer of a documentary entitled "A Working Forest."
"It is so so sad...these seedlings are from a tree that has been eliminated from our forests but now can be saved and replanted!" Williams says. "The American chestnut is a tree we must bring back."