Absorbent and yellow and missing is he

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 3, 2004

Authorities on Thursday issued an all-points bulletin for a 10-foot-tall yellow sponge abducted overnight from a Burger King in northern Suffolk.

SpongeBob SquarePants, the grinning sponge adored by youngsters worldwide, was swiped from atop the fast-food eatery on Town Point Road sometime after 11 p.m. Wednesday, said Sgt. John King, spokesman for the Suffolk Police Department. The large balloon was deflated at the time of his disappearance.

Restaurant officials didn’t notice that SpongeBob was missing until around 9:30 a.m., King said.

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Police say the assailants got to the beloved creature by climbing on the outside walk-in freezer behind the restaurant and cutting the ropes that tethered him to the roof.

Few clues were left at the crime scene, King said.

“It’s unknown at this time if he was taken or if he went on his own free will,” said King.

But Chas Berle, president of Chasmar Properties, which owns the Burger King franchise, suspects the sponge-napping is the work of a professional.

“This is your typical serial criminal,” Berle said. “We haven’t received any ransom notes yet but we are expecting one.”

SpongeBob, a Nickelodeon character, has surfaced from his comfortable pineapple home in Bikini Bottom to promote Burger King and his new movie, aptly named “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Movie.”

In recent weeks, the inflatable yellow sponge has perched atop the Burger King restaurants around the country, prompting a string of similar sponge-nappings nationwide. Locally, the most recent one to go missing was from a Burger King on West Ocean View Avenue in Norfolk earlier this week.

Berle says he is “cautiously optimistic” that SpongeBob will be recovered.

He is offering a reward for the safe return of the promotional balloon – a free Whopper each week for a year.

No charges will be filed if SpongeBob – valued at $1,000 – is voluntarily returned, Berle said. He will press charges if police arrest someone for the crime.

After Christmas, the restaurant had planned to sell SpongeBob for $100 and use the proceeds to help fund two $1,000 scholarships that Chasmar gives annually to local students. Last year, one of the scholarships went to a Lakeland High School graduate.