Albuquerque city officials reported the statue stolen this week after it was vandalized. Two city employees quickly came forward, saying they removed the bright-green cactus from the park and mistakenly had it sent to the dump.
City spokesman Chris Ramirez said Wednesday that the employees didn't realize the cactus was part of a public art project.
High school students spent a summer building the art piece shaped like a prickly pear cactus. They were part of a nonprofit group that provides art education for at-risk kids.