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Neighbors Say Upper West Side Tree Was 'Murdered;' Police Investigate

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- People on the Upper West Side wanted justice Tuesday, after a towering fixture in the neighborhood was deliberately damaged.

As CBS2's Weijia Jiang reported, the city has said the beloved tree will not survive after its bark was stripped.

Eight years ago, community gardener Costello Caldwell built a planter around the gingko tree to protect its roots. The tree resided on the corner of 103rd Street and West End Avenue.

"Now you can have flowers that cascade" down the planter, Costello said, adding that the planter was "absolutely" an act of love.

But last Monday, Costello said someone committed an act of hate.

"It's murdered," he said of the tree. "This is a crime scene."

In fact, the NYPD has launched a criminal mischief investigation. Police believe a neighbor used an axe or hatchet to strip the bark, interrupting the tree's growing process.

The remains were left scattered on the ground.

The motive was likely to get rid of the tree's pungent smell.

"A lump came, came to my throat -- same lump that comes to my throat when I see these animal abuse commercials," Caldwell said.

Foresters with the city's Department of Parks and Recreation evaluated the wound to the tree. Their prognosis was grim – they gave the tree a maximum of six months.

They said there is no way the tree will survive.

"They killed a tree!" Upper West Side resident Ralph Pochoda said with an expression of shock.

The move to kill the tree resonated with everyone from flustered strangers to 9-year-old Ben Danehy.

"I feel disappointed that now I can't say even hi to it anymore," Ben said.

The community was in mourning, and flowers and notes surrounded the trunk.

"I love this tree," said neighbor Laura Doty. "It's so graceful."

Parks police plan to charge the person behind the hack attack with arborcide – the killing of a living tree. In this case, the tree was a beloved one that so many will miss.

The charge is a misdemeanor, but the suspect will also have to pay a fee of $6,000 to $7,000 to replace the tree.

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