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Friends step up after real-life Grinch steals tree from fallen soldier's memorial

Two of Steven Sutton's friends stepped in after a Christmas tree at Sutton's Landing was stolen. / Mary Green

A week ago, Gene Sutton brought a Christmas tree to Sutton's Landing in Lee County.

"It was beautiful," he said. "My wife said it looked like that you took it out of a show room window and just set it there. It had red, white and blue lights."

Sutton returned each day to water the tree and look after it, but something wasn't right when he arrived Wednesday. The tree was gone.

Sutton said he first thought it had blown over in the wind, but when he got closer, it was nowhere to be found.

"When I got right up here, I said, 'Somebody stole the tree,'" he said.

But this wasn't just any tree that a real-life Grinch had taken.

Sutton's Landing is dedicated to Gene's son, Steven, a Marine who was killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2012.

Sutton had brought the tree out this year for him.

"He went over and fought for them, knowing there's a war going, knowing that he's going to have to go to the front line, and these people stole from him," he said. "That's just unreal."

For Sutton, that tree meant a lot.

"For about five years, I was going through a rough stage, and I said, 'I'm not going to put up my lights, I'm not going to do nothing,'" he said. "This year, I decided to put up lights. My wife said, 'We need to put up something at the memorial site.'"

Sutton's wife, Bonnie, put up a post on Facebook about the tree theft, and word quickly spread, Sutton said.

It wasn't long before Colton Glover had heard the news.

"Immediately, as soon as we saw it, we were like, this is a done deal," he said. "This will be taken care of."

Glover owns Trojan Tree Lot in Lee County. He brought one of his own trees to Sutton's Landing and set it up Wednesday night with one of his friends, Drew Cherry. Both Glover and Cherry went to Lee County High School with Steven, known to many as "Big Steve."

"He cared about everybody," Glover said. "He never left you without saying, 'I love you, buddy.' Ever."

Now it's their kindness that means so much.

"For him to do that, there's no words, really, for that," Sutton said.

With a few days to go before Christmas, the new tree is bolted down about as strong as the legacy of the man it honors.

"Steven had to have some good friends, you know, to come up with it that quick," Sutton said.

Glover said from this year on, Sutton's Landing will never go without a Christmas tree, as Trojan Tree Lot will donate a tree each year.

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