A serial tree branch breaker in Crown Heights and Prospect Heights is finally in custody — bringing an end to a months-long reign of arborsault the likes of which Brooklyn has never seen.
The man, whose name is being withheld due to his history of mental illness, was caught at around 2 pm on Wednesday in the act of destroying a tree in Prospect Park, according to police. A Parks Department worker said he had seen the branch attacker damaging at least 40 trees — though it seems likely that such a stunning amount of damage was not done in one day.
“Having a tree put in can take years,” said Jon Crow, who maintains the Brooklyn Bears community garden in the area. “It’s just so sad to see that effort literally snapped away in a few seconds.”
The branch breaker’s reign of terror had the same M.O. He tended to focus on relatively new trees, ripping their limbs off and leaving the carnage on the sidewalk.
He is thought to have been the culprit for the severe damage done to dozens of trees — including new gingko, cherry trees and oaks — stretching from Grand Army Plaza to Bedford Avenue. Others have seen the evidence of his renegade pruning as far as Flatbush Avenue between Prospect and Park places, as well as numerous other streets in the area.
“Many of the trees on my block were planted only 12 years ago,” said Alan Mass, who lives on Eastern Parkway between Underhill and Washington avenues. “They’re important to the community and he’s damaging them terribly! Branches as big as two inches across were snapped off at the trunk. The trees are subject to disease and infestation!”
But one neighbor who lives on Sterling Street across from the Tree Branch Breaker’s home said that the mentally ill man should not be perceived as dangerous or mean-spirited.
“He’s not such a bad guy,” said the neighbor, Joseph Solomon. “He doesn’t break into anyone’s cars or hurt anybody — it’s just trees. He’s not right [mentally].”
Solomon added that the Tree Branch Breaker had been lashing out at trees for at least the last three years, beginning around springtime, though others disputed this.
The arbor annihilation, which began in April, became so out of control that locals banded together in an online forum on the Brooklynian message board to try and convince police and elected officials to intervene. The lengthy thread chronicles in startling detail their efforts to navigate city bureaucracy while documenting numerous damaged trees.
In mid-June, the locals’ efforts led to the Tree Branch Breaker being taken to a mental institution, giving the trees a respite from the destruction.
It did not last long.
“His mother begged him to stay in the hospital, but they let him go when the medication was working,” said Amyre Loomis, a spokeswoman for Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene), who has been involved in the saga.
Once the Tree Branch Breaker returned home, he soon stopped taking his medicine, and the arboreal assault began anew — until Wednesday.
“He had been missing for the last 48 hours,” said James. “The police were actively looking for him because of complaints from the community.”
It is unclear what fate now holds for the Tree Branch Breaker — he was charged with criminal mischief.
“He’s an ‘emotionally disturbed person,’ so it is iffy what is going to happen at this point,” said the police source on Wednesday afternoon.
James said that it would soon be time to begin replanting.
“Some of these trees we just planted are now destroyed. We have to replant them,” James said. “One of the reasons people love brownstone Brooklyn are its trees.”
For now, locals were relieved that the destruction appeared to be over.
“It’s sad for the trees and for him, but he needs to be stopped,” said Crowe, adding, “I hope he can be helped.”
A phone call to The Tree Branch Breaker’s home was not returned and no one answered a knock on the door.