Make gnome mistake, it was an elfish act.
An impudent violation of lawn order.
But so far no one has pressed charges - or even come forward to confess to owning a garden gnome and wanting it back.
Yesterday at 8 a.m., the Ocean City Police "received a report of criminal mischief" at Ocean City High School, according a department news release.
"The investigation revealed that unknown persons had placed approximately 75 garden decorations (gnomes) in the landscape surrounding the high school building."
The brightly colored gathering - it's called a donsy when it comes to gnome - included twins, a woman holding a bunny, one severed head, a dude beneath a toadstool, assorted males with beards and pointy caps, and dozens of others difficult to identify in police photographs because of varying toppled conditions.
The gnomes mysteriously materialized in the middle of the night, assisted by at least a half-dozen furtive figures, according to surveillance footage.
Although little is known about gnome modes of transportion, several orange milk crates were parked nearby.
No clues suggest involvement by Travelocity.
Cape May County shouldn't be called a hotbed of gnome activity, at least as far as Lt. Steve Ang is aware.
It apparently took months to assemble the whole gang, in preparation for the flashy mob, based on interviews with several suspects, high school seniors from Upper Township, the police spokesman said.
"We don't want to keep them captive any longer than we have to," he said.
The gnomes, that is, not the students.
"We put them in our impound lot. They're being stored until someone can come and claim them," Ang said.
"They suffered maybe a few scratches here and there, but nothing that required any medical treatment," Ang said.
No damage was done to school, and no one has made a formal complaint, so the department is treating the episode as a harmless prank.
Gnome mercy. Instead of no mercy.
No one is suggesting this was a hate crime, or a case of cruel abandonment.
But Ang made it clear that such behavior is risky, because it can jeopardize college plans and future employment, if an ornament owner does complain and theft charges get filed.
"If an individual victim would like to come in and take that kind of action, we are not going to deter them," Ang said.
Theft reports should be filed with the local jurisdiction, police said. Then Ocean City police can be contacted about identifying and recovering said yardware. The department's phone number is 609-399-9111.
Any unclaimed statues might eventually be sold off at auction, Ang said.