- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

PORTALES, N.M. (AP) - A garden cultivated by New Mexico preschoolers believed to be ravaged by thieves was actually mistakenly destroyed by maintenance workers, school officials said Tuesday.

In a statement, Eastern New Mexico University said police looked at surveillance footage of the school’s Child Development Center and discovered that physical plant employees inadvertently decimated the garden while mowing.

School officials initially believed the Portales school’s garden was raided by vandals of its green beans, peas and squash planted by 3- and 4-year-olds before students returned for the summer.

Staff discovered the missing plants Monday before taking the children out to tend to the garden. The only surviving plants were an overlooked squash plant on the side, and two heavily damaged bean plants clinging to life, officials said.

Because of a previous vandalism of the school’s pumpkin patch, the preschool staff thought it was another case of theft. School officials did not know about the mowing accident.

“The employee who reported the theft of the plants was not aware that this had happened,” Eastern New Mexico University said in a statement.

In 2014, vandals picked clean the same school’s pumpkin patch that also was cultivated by preschoolers. The school’s 26 students had studied the pumpkins, weeded the area and watered them since they were sprouts before the patch was raided at night.

Two teens later confessed to that pumpkin heist.

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