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SAN DIEGO – Hard-hearted thieves stole an expensive four-seat bicycle from a school for autistic children, and school officials say the students are having trouble coping with the loss.

The theft from the Pioneer Program in Ocean Beach apparently took place sometime last week. There were no signs of a break-in at the campus, but students noticed that the bicycle was gone when they arrived at school

“Our students were asking for the bike. We were trying to locate it and couldn’t find it anywhere,” said program director Cynthia Fahardo.

The four-wheel, surrey-style bike was stolen from the school overnight. The heist wasn’t easy. The thieves had to get the large bike off of the campus, which is surrounded by a locked chain-link fence.

“They probably scouted us out a bit, because we keep this place locked down pretty well, so they worked hard to get that bike,” Pioneer Program staffer Adam Lemucchi said.

Program workers say the school works with nearly 60 children, many of whom have trouble understanding why someone would steal their favorite learning tool.

“It’s tough to explain what happened and why somebody would do something like that,” Lemucchi said. “So it’s really tough to see that look on the student’s face.”

“We’ve had a student who needed to use a coping strategy because the bike wasn’t available and he didn’t understand,” Fahardo added.

The bicycle was an important part of the school’s program. Students would use it to tour the neighborhood around the school.

“They’re limited in their physical fitness abilities, so we use that to go out in the community. They use that to do group exercises. So for us it’s sad,” Fahardo said.

School officials said it would cost nearly $4,000 to replace the bicycle. That’s cash the program needs for other things.

“It’s so unfortunate when this happens, especially to a place that gives back to the community quite a bit,” Lemucchi said.

“If somebody sees it or if somebody had it and they’re willing to bring it back, we’re so happy to have it back,” Fahardo said.

The bicycle theft is the second time thieves have hit the school. Earlier this year, someone broke in and stole more than a dozen iPads.