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A panel that was stolen from a cinema-themed public mural that hangs in Kew Gardens Cinemas Park after a recent “Kids Art in the Park” event was anonymously returned – with a lot of help from the community.

Carla E. Reyes’ panel, entitled “Whomping Willow” after the tree planted on the grounds of the Hogworts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter series, had been hanging on a faux filmstrip background since October 2008 with nine other pieces by Kew Gardens-based artists. It was found to be missing after the Sunday, June 28 children’s event.

“The mural was intact until at least five that evening,” when the event was finished, Reyes said.

As project co-coordinator, Carol Lacks arrived the next morning to clean up, and noticed that Reyes’ section had been pried off the backing.

The pieces were painted onto thin masonite boards and attached to the background with “very heavy glue,” said Lacks. Prior to the panel’s return, Lacks asserted that “someone definitely pulled it off with a crowbar, because there were some pieces of masonite left [on the background].”

Regarding the panel’s disappearance, Reyes stated, “This was the last thing I ever expected to happen.” After it was found, she admitted her initial doubts that someone would return it. “Never would I expect this to happen,” she said of its return.

The saga of its return began on the morning of Sunday, July 5, when, in a nearby Dunkin Donuts, Lacks spoke with a man she and Reyes describe as “the eyes and ears of the park.” He said that the piece had been returned in a plastic bag and left near the mural.

When Lacks ran to the scene, it wasn’t there. “It was upsetting,” Reyes said, upon hearing the news.

However, despite having checked the movie theater early in the day to see if someone had returned it, to no avail, it actually was at the movie theater.

“A passerby saw it lying on the ground and turned it into the movie theater for safe keeping,” an overjoyed Lacks said. The man, whom Lacks and Reyes declined to name, had learned that the returned piece was at the theater while talking to one of its employees following his initial conversation with Lacks.

“The movie theater called me in the evening,” Lacks said.

Both Reyes and Lacks echoed that they owe it all to the members of the community and to this man, who was “instrumental in spreading the word” about the missing painting. Lacks had also drawn up a flier that had been distributed.

They plan to reattach the panel in the near future, this time reinforcing it using screws.

“Amazing things happen when a community gets together,” Lacks concluded.

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