A Ventana Ranch neighborhood known for breathtaking Christmas displays woke up Saturday morning to find that a group of vandals destroyed decorations outside of several homes.
Nate Bywater, who invites the public to a display at his home featuring Bumblebee and Optimus Prime cars decorated for the holiday each weekend, said he heard some noise around 2 a.m. Saturday but didn’t discover the damages until the morning.
“At first I thought it was a targeted thing, but apparently it wasn’t because they got everyone in our neighborhood,” Bywater said. “We thought it was because of all the events that we’ve been holding with the Transformers cars and all that. Then we found out it was all the neighbors down our street, and then while we were cleaning that up couple hours later, I saw someone posted on ring.com that they got hit too and I saw that she was in a complete different neighborhood next door to us in Sedona. So I told her, I was like, ‘Hey, can you call me? I want to talk to you,’ and I found out it was the exact same thing.”
Surveillance video camera shows several people running up to homes and smashing decorations on the ground. Bywater said the group hit at least seven homes, with inflatables being popped or ripped and trees and other decorations being thrown in the street and run over by the car the group was in.
“The last thing you’re going to think of is someone destroying Christmas decorations,” Bywater said. “Yeah, breaking into a car or something, that’s Albuquerque, right? But destroying thousands of dollars in Christmas decorations is definitely unexpected.”
Bywater’s neighborhood, near Unser and Irving, is well known for Christmas decorations, with most homes in the area putting up lights each year. It’s also home to Dave Plourde, also known as Mr. Christmas. Plourde’s home is known throughout the city for its elaborate display which features around 50,000 lights.
The vandals did not damage any of Plourde’s display.
“I think they knew better than to mess with that house,” Bywater said. “That is the crown jewel of Albuquerque, and they were very wise to leave that one alone.”
There was some good news to come out of the senseless destruction in the neighborhood.
Kehaulani Ayze and her boyfriend, Matthew McKelvey, saw a post on Facebook about the vandalism Saturday morning and immediately went to Home Depot to replace the damaged decorations.
They bought all of the store’s remaining decorations to donate to homes who were attacked. Ayze, McKelvey and Bywater loaded up a friend’s truck Saturday afternoon and installed nearly a dozen of the new decorations outside several homes.
“That family, I’ve used this phrase for that family before, they are the salt of the earth kind of people,” Bywater said. “They are you what we’re supposed to be to each other as a community and as neighbors and as friends and just as decent human beings. I can tell you that family, every single day they do stuff like that, and no one hears about it, because the news isn’t there. But they are the kindest people I’ve ever met in my life.”
Bywater said he thinks the group was three teenagers in a black Mercedes but they are still looking at surveillance videos from homes in the neighborhood.
Despite the vandalism, the lights were on again Saturday night as hundreds of cars drove through the neighborhood to see the displays. For Bywater, those Christmas lights showed how a community can pull together to help out some neighbors.
“The lost money aside, a lot more positive came out of the vandalism than negative,” Bywater said. “It beat us down a little bit; we definitely woke up feeling defeated. But within an hour or two, our community started rallying together. Everyone just got together and knocked it out of the park.”
Bywater knows plenty about helping neighbors. He and other neighbors have decorated Plourde’s house the past two years as a thank you to their 83-year-old neighbor. This year, Bywater started a GoFundMe for Plourde and his wife that has raised $13,725 as of Wednesday afternoon. The fundraiser will be active through the end of 2022.