Auburn University supporters have another reason to gather around the 130-year-old oak tress at Toomer’s Corner. Unfortunately, this occasion is no victory celebration.
On Feb. 16, the university confirmed that the two trees were poisoned with the herbicide known as Spike 80DF.
The announcement came after a caller bragged on The Paul Finebaum Show, a radio show based in Birmingham, that he had poisoned the trees. As a precaution, soil samples were sent to a lab at Mississippi State University where tests found 65 times the necessary dose to kill the trees.
The call was traced and on Feb. 17, a suspect was taken into police custody. Harvey Updyke Jr., 62, of Dadeville, Ala., was arrested and charged with one count of first-degree criminal mischief. If convicted, he could face one to 10 years in prison.
Updyke, now on his fourth defense attorney, has posted bond and been released from the Lee County Detention Center. Updyke’s first three court-appointed attorneys asked to be removed from the case, the first two because of their ties to Auburn University and the third because of an "irreconcilable conflict" with the defendant.
Meanwhile, a task force made up of horticulturists, landscapers, agronomists, engineers and chemists has begun the process of saving one of Auburn’s most recognized traditions. This includes replacing the contaminated soil and spreading activated charcoal to the roots to absorb the poison.
“We will take every step we can to save the Toomer's oaks, which have been the home of countless celebrations and a symbol of the Auburn spirit for generations of Auburn students, fans, alumni and the community,” university President Jay Gogue said in a statement.
Upon hearing the news, many Auburn University students descended upon Toomer’s Corner to pay their respects and reflect on memories made at the Auburn landmark. Orange and blue shakers, flowers and rolls of toilet paper bearing sentimental notes were laid at the roots of the embattled trees.
Meredith Jones, a Student Recruiter and junior at Auburn University, is one of the students affected by the tree tragedy because Toomer’s Corner is such an intregal part of this campus.
“The Toomer’s tradition is something that I really am thankful for,” said Jones. “It’s just something that’s really unique to Auburn and it’s something I like to talk about on my campus tours.”
The famous trees have even taken to Twitter. With more than 2,400 followers, Toomer’s Oaks have students and supporters smiling again with upbeat and often downright hilarious tweets.
While Updyke may have achieved his goal of killing the beloved trees, he has also managed to bring Auburn University back into the national spotlight and bring the Auburn family closer together.