SALT LAKE CITY — A bronze statue of a child chasing a butterfly has been stolen from a center for children with autism.

The piece, valued at $24,000 and titled "Beyond the Garden," was reported missing from the courtyard at Valley Mental Health Carmen B. Pingree Center for Children with Autism on Tuesday, said Christopher Katis, director of communications of Valley Mental Health. He said the sculpture was created at Adonis Bronze by artist Dennis Smith and depicted a 4-foot tall boy chasing after a butterfly.

"It's representative for us, at a center that works with children with autism, of the things children with autism can achieve — about going beyond the limitations society puts on them," Katis said. "It's a beautiful piece, and unfortunately, someone took it."

The statue appeared to have sawed-off near the boy's "little toes," Katis said. The theft has been reported to police, who are patrolling sites where metal is melted down for scrap.

"There are folks who melt scrap metal down who aren't very reputable," Katis said. "They'll melt anything down. They don't care where it's from."

Meantime, those at the center are hoping for some sort of lead that may help in recovering the artwork.

"This meant a lot to the children and the families and the staff here and it's unfortunate that someone would do that," Katis said.

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Salt Lake police detective Mike Hamideh said these types of thefts, including those involving copper wire, are often a "crime of opportunity" prompted by the smaller population and lower levels of traffic in the industrial areas. Still, he said police are "extremely interested in getting information" in this case.

Anyone with information is asked to call Salt Lake police at 801-799-3000 or text CRIMES at 274637 and name the department the information is intended for. Tips can be kept anonymous but are also eligible for the "tips for cash" program, which offers rewards up to $5,000 for the arrest and conviction of those responsible, Hamideh said.

Emiley Morgan Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam