CHAMPAIGN - A kidnapped purple dinosaur has been returned to a Champaign child care center, apparently none the worse for the wear.
The Community Day Care School recovered the 6-foot-long dinosaur Saturday after a neighbor who had read about the theft in The News-Gazette reported finding it in an alley behind her house.
The dinosaur had been missing since May 29, just a week after being installed as part of a new $5,500 playground on the east side of the school.
"When they kids came in on Monday, they said, 'The dinosaur's back!'" said administrative assistant Barbara Shelton on Thursday.
The neighbor, who lives across Bradley Avenue from the school, stopped by Saturday morning to report a dinosaur lying in the alley behind her house.
"I said, 'Is it a big purple one?'" Shelton said, presumably to make sure she had the right dinosaur. The woman confirmed the color.
"She wasn't sure how it got there, but she wanted me to know that it was there," Shelton said.
The school's maintenance man fetched the dinosaur about an hour later. Curiously, no one called in the interim to report the dinosaur's presence, Shelton noted.
The dinosaur now presides over the playground on the west side of the center, which has a locked gate and a higher fence, Shelton said.
"It was a little more secure. You can't just walk in," she said.
Shelton still isn't sure where the dinosaur was for those two days, or who took it. "We just think it's probably somebody in the neighborhood who decided to borrow it," then decided their merchandise was a little too noticeable after news coverage of the theft, she said.
"It's a little hard to hide a purple dinosaur in your back yard."
Whoever took it "decided to do the right thing and return it," said Linda Harris, teleserve coordinator for the Champaign Police Department. "It did turn out to be a happy ending."
You can reach Julie Wurth at (217) 351-5226 or via e-mail at email@example.com.