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Police cite neighbor in school tree-cutting

CENTRAL POINT — After three trees students planted near Central Point Elementary School were cut down this week, the community has responded quickly, flooding the school with donations and offers of help.

"It's awesome to see the outpouring from the community," Central Point Elementary Principal Brock Rowley said. "The word spread quickly and far."

It even reached Billy Bob Thornton, for whom one of the trees was named, prompting the actor to send a message to students through a representative.

"His media person said to say 'Hey' to the kids from him in a Southern accent," Rowley said.

In addition to greetings from a celebrity, the school received donations of money, offers of new trees and invitations to join other tree-planting efforts, the principal said.

Central Point police also moved promptly in citing a suspect, a 65-year-old woman with a history of bizarre behavior and conflicts with neighbors.

Police cited and released Phyllis Ingram Fairless, 65, of the 100 block of Bush Street, Friday morning on charges of second-degree criminal mischief and second-degree trespassing, Central Point police Lt. Chuck Newell said.

Officers have been called to remove her from school grounds in the past when she acted odd and refused to leave, Newell said. She also is known to have problems with other neighbors, possibly because of a health issue, he said.

Tuesday morning, students discovered three of 10 sweet gum trees they planted in November had been cut down and covered with salt in an apparent effort to halt regrowth. The trees, grown to slender saplings from tiny seedlings by fifth-grade teacher Mack Lewis, were given names and birth certificates when the children planted them.

In addition to one called Billy Bob Thornton, "twins" Cocoa and Crystal were cut down.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.