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SALT LAKE CITY -- A bronze statue of a child chasing a butterfly has been stolen from a center for children with autism, and some are saying the thieves will never know just how much they stole.
The piece, valued at $24,000 and titled "Beyond the Garden," was reported missing from the courtyard at the Carmen B. Pingree Center for Children with Autism on Tuesday, according to Christopher Katis, director of communications of Valley Mental Health.
"It's representative for us at a center that works with children with autism, of the things children with autism can achieve — about going beyond the limitations society puts on them," Katis said. "It's a beautiful piece, and unfortunately, someone took it."
The statue appeared to have sawed-off near the boy's "little toes," Katis said. The theft has been reported to police, who are patrolling sites where metal is melted down for scrap.
"There are folks who melt scrap metal down who aren't very reputable," Katis said. "They'll melt anything down. They don't care where it's from."
The statue was a symbol of hope for many parents of children with autism. Jeff Grover, whose 12-year-old son, Josh, has autism, was shocked at the insensitivity that sometimes comes with a lack of understanding of autism.
Grover said he believes many people who are judgmental of children with autism are not spiteful in their intentions -- rather, they simply do not understand.
"I'm sad to say, I'm afraid I was pretty judgmental when I was first introduced to a boy with autism," he said. "I saw it in myself. It's not something people do out of spite or villainy -- it's a complete lack of understanding. It's amazing how things change, how a light goes on when you understand what needs to be done."
It's an understanding that comes with exposure, according to Grover. Autism affects nearly one in 110 children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
"Everyone either knows someone or has a family member," Grover said. "Chances are good you either know someone or throughout the course of your life you will know someone with autism. And once you spend some time with someone, you will grow to understand."
Grover said he has noticed many people who are unfamiliar with autism tend to either confront or ignore a child who is not communicating well.
"Either one of those is kind of hurtful, in different ways," he said.
Those with information can call the Salt Lake City Police Department at 801-799-3000.
A positive encounter, though, can make a world of difference. Grover told a story of a child in his church group who was not very verbal. The child expressed interest in Grover's watch, and Grover explained some of the features of the digital watch.
"Normally if someone grabbed your watch, you would be annoyed," he said. "But we kind of had a moment there where we understood what we were doing.We shared a moment of interaction, which is difficult to do with strangers who have autism.That interaction can be so meaningful, even without words."
Grover has something to say to the thieves.
"If you really understood the struggles of the thousands of parent's dreams symbolized by that image, you would know the value of the metal and the casting pales in comparison," he said. "You have stabbed a group of already exasperated and heartbroken parents right in the heart."
Written with contributions from Emiley Morgan.