After years of planning, a flower garden planted at Roses for Autism to provide tranquility for people with autism and their families has been vandalized—twice. Now, local police are redoubling their efforts to catch the culprits as they also help rebuild the garden.
The first act of vandalism took place on June 2. Employees of Roses for Autism, the Guilford-based non-profit that fosters employment opportunities for people with autism, arrived at work to find recently purchased plants and seed had been stolen and a trellis was broken at the site of a planned sensory garden. The garden, which would have been one of the first of its kind on the shoreline, was supposed to be formally opened to the public on Saturday, June 24
Guilford Police responded and, as expected, began an investigation. What they did next was not expected.
“Later that evening, the responding officer came back to Roses for Autism with an array of beautiful plants,” said Roses for Autism Managing Director Michelle Ouimette. “He said that he and his fellow officers pooled their money to buy us these plants. We immediately planted the plants.”
On June 12, however, the vandals struck again, this time digging up different plants and flowers and stealing statues and lawn ornaments in the garden according to Ouimette.
“When it happened the first time we were frustrated and thought ‘Who would take rose bushes and grass seed and break our trellis like who would do that?’” she said. “But we rallied together and we felt really supported by the Guilford Police, who brought plants, and we thought, ‘Well we are going to push forward with our event’ and then coming in this week on Monday and seeing that more damage had happened and larger things had been taken and our statues and our fence broken—I mean, we are just devastated.”
The new sensory garden has been a work in progress since 2015, with employees and volunteers raising $12,000 for supplies and volunteers putting in over 1,000 hours to build the garden. A sensory garden is a garden designed to have different beds that invoke different senses, which can be both therapeutic and educational.
Ouimette said the June 24 ribbon cutting is off.
“At this point we feel we have to put the event on hold and it doesn’t make sense to plant anymore right now until we have security measures in place and hopefully the person is caught,” she said.
Ouimette said the organization is currently considering building a fence at the entrance to the property and possibly installing security cameras. Roses for Autism has also put together and fundraising page to help replace all that was lost or damaged once security is in place.
For now, Ouimette said people at the organization and the public are upset by what has happened.
“The responses we have gotten on Facebook and on email, people are just shocked,” she said. “They don’t understand why anyone would come and ruin a garden that was meant for people with disabilities. It was built by them, and was there for the community to enjoy. I mean why? People are outraged.”
Guilford Police Chief Jeff Hutchinson said the acts of vandalism are currently under investigation, but there are no suspects at this time. Hutchinson said while the investigation is ongoing, he was pleased to see members of the department step up with donations after the first incident.
“They [the officers] did that on their own and I think they did it for all of the right reasons and that is the type of people we have here,” he said.
With the investigation ongoing and the plans for the ribbon cutting now on hold, Ouimette said she hopes people understand what a loss this is to the community.
“This was going to be a one-of-a-kind place on the shoreline, it was meant to be for the community to enjoy and it is not just something against Roses for Autism. Someone is making a statement about our organization, the people we serve, and about what we are trying to do for the community,” she said.
To donate to the Roses for Autism Sensory Garden, visit www.gofundme.com/roses-for-autism-sensory-garden.
Anyone with information about the incidents is asked to contact the Guilford Police Department at 203-453-8061 or call the anonymous tip line at 203-453-8240.