AVON PARK - It was in 1997 that Avon Park resident Betty Houck experienced every mother's worst nightmare.
She learned that her son, Chip, had died at age 37 from a heart attack while he sleeping.
Not long afterwards, she and her husband had a brick memorial installed near First United Methodist Church. And since about 2001, she's put up and lighted a tree in her son's memory in front of the church.
This year, Houck was shocked to learn that on Nov. 30 someone stole the tree.
"It's very disappointing," she said. If the person who stole the tree wanted one, she would have brought one herself, she added.
In other incidents that seem to show that some people are lacking the Christmas spirt, thieves stole a Christmas tree with handmade ornaments from a shed near a house in Avon Park, and cash at a rummage store in Lake Placid where the Secret Angels were raising money to buy Christmas presents for children of needy families.
In Highlands County, incidents involving thefts of Christmas trees don't happen very often, said Nell Hays, Highlands County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman.
That's probably because the Christmas trees have relatively little monetary value, Hays said. She said there's been some instances of vandalism involving tree ornaments.
Sebring Police Cmdr. Steve Carr said no such incidents have been reported this year, but they've had some in the past that were "few and far between."
All that doesn't provide much comfort to Sunny Serafino, who said the theft of her Christmas tree and ornaments was like a double whammy.
The first blow she got was when her husband died about four months ago. Recently, she said, she decided to put up her small Christmas tree, which was kept in a shed, and discovered that someone got into the shed and stole the tree and ornaments.
The loss of the tree and the ornaments was particularly sad because the decorations were "handmade" by her mother, who died in 1994.
Some were made during the 1980s and "some of them were much older than that," Serafino said. "She was always stitching."
Serafino, who planned to give the items to her children, said the items included wreathes, center prices, a nutcracker and a baby in a basket ornament, all of which she or her mother created, she said. Stolen items also included figures created by her mother that depicted a mother and her two children caroling.
She doesn't understand why anyone would steal the items. While they had a lot of sentimental value, there was little or no monetary value for anyone else.
Another Christmas-related theft occurred in Lake Placid during a rummage sale last weekend that raised money for Secret Angels, an organization that helps people who with special needs, such as someone who can't pay their utility bill.
Beth Kelley Gollihue, the founder of the group, said that apparently someone reached into a money jar and stole about $50 in coins that were to be used to buy presents for children of needy families. Gollihue said that the woman running the event counted the money and later recounted it and discovered what was missing.
Last year, she said, Secret Angels provided gifts for 54 children. This year, it plans to give gifts to 91 children.
Anyone who would like to donate money can contact the group on Facebook by searching for Secret Angels or calling Gollihue at (863) 368-2150.
As for the theft of Houck's tree, she said, that while that is "heartbreaking," "I'd like to think they needed it more than me."