When the Christmas lights went out on the towering tree on public display in Sea Girt, New Jersey, police were quick to suspect foul play.
The wire strands had been savagely cut over the Thanksgiving long weekend, snuffing out the the festive icon — and darkening hearts around the town of some 1,800 residents.
Who among them could commit such a brazen act of mischief? And just days before the town’s official tree-lighting ceremony. Investigators issued a public plea for witnesses, and the hunt was on for the holiday killjoys.
“Somebody is trying to steal the spirit of Christmas,” Sea Girt resident Amy Dafeldecker told Eyewitness News 7.
But it didn’t take long for the investigation to take a dramatic turn. The Sea Girt Police Department was no longer seeking a marauding band of ne’er-do-wells. But rather, an eccentric loner, a few inches tall, weighing just a few pounds and wearing a fur coat — a squirrel.
Indeed, investigators determined the wires were slashed with tiny, sharp teeth. New evidence also had surfaced — over the weekend, a passerby had taken pictures of a squirrel loitering among the town Christmas exhibits.
The real smoking gun? Photos of the squirrel blithely nibbling at Christmas lights.
"The SGPD is proud to report that the case of our broken holiday lights has been solved," the department tweeted. "We are happy that no human acted as a grinch in this incident. The squirrel was charged with criminal mischief and released on bail."
But in all seriousness, police won’t be pursuing charges against the nutty saboteur — the lights have been repaired and, hopefully, squirrel-proofed. On social media, however, the incident has drawn mixed reactions.
“LOCK HIM UP!” someone decreed on Twitter.
Another observer wondered if this same squirrel may be wanted in connection with recent acorn thefts.
It all seems to come down to how people feel about these rascally rodents — and Christmas in general.
It should be noted that this squirrel didn’t, in fact, steal Christmas. But it did draw the world’s attention to a tiny town in New Jersey — and lit up countless hearts with laughter.
And for that spectacular act of mischief, we salute this lovable rogue.