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BURLINGTON, Vt. - The theft of a 4-foot statue of Ronald McDonald was probably a prank, police said - but people at the home for sick children it was stolen from aren't laughing.

Children and families frequently had photos taken next to the red-and-yellow plastic resin figurine before it turned up missing Tuesday, said Pamela Feni-more, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House. It was unbolted from the bench it sat upon outside the house.

"It's despicable, it really is," Fenimore said. "It goes beyond being funny. It really isn't funny when you consider the kids and the families that get enjoyment out of it."

The nine-bedroom house is one of 270 in 30 countries that provides a "home away from home" for sick children and their families traveling for treatment, according to the organization's Web site.

April Storm, 42, is staying at the house with her granddaughter Casiya Lieb-fred, who has cystic fibrosis and cerebral palsy and recently had tonsil sur-gery. She said Casiya looks forward to taking pictures with the statue.

"When I told her she couldn't, she actually cried," Storm said.

Someone tried to cut the head off the statue last week, but it's unclear if the same culprits are to blame for the theft.

Police Lt. William Ward said the statue probably didn't go far in Burlington, a lively college town that's seen its fair share of pranks.

Whoever is responsible could face felony grand larceny charges if caught, he said.

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