EAST MEADOW, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Police on Long Island have been trying to find out who would be so heartless as to vandalize vans meant to transport the developmentally disabled.

As CBS 2’s Andrea Grymes reported, Nassau County authorities seem to have figured out what the thieves are really after.

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Philip Guerra gets picked up in his wheelchair every day to come to AHRC Nassau, an organization that serves the developmentally disabled.

“I depend on it,” Guerra said.

But on Wednesday morning, the special AHRC van did not show up. Police said that was because someone stole not the vehicles, but swiped the catalytic converters from under them.

Staffers said nine vans were vandalized and left undrivable.

“That’s inconsiderate not only for me, but for other people,” Guerra said.

The drivers tried to start the vans, but couldn’t get anywhere.

“When they started the van, they noticed the van started making a very loud noise,” said AHRC Nassau site manager Judith Green.

Catalytic converters help control vehicle emissions. Experts said they are easy to remove, and valuable for thieves – with parts fetching more than $1,000.

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The vans were parked in a lot on the Hempstead Turnpike when police said the thieves struck sometime Tuesday or Wednesday.

“This was terrible,” said AHRC Nassau site manager Sonja Coston. “It was a shame.”

Staffers said they usually pick up about 30 participants and then take them to do volunteer work. Some of that had to be canceled on Wednesday.

Nassau County police have not said what happened at the East Meadow facility is part of any growing trend. But in Rockville Centre, police said 14 catalytic converters were stolen earlier this month.

“They sell the catalytic converters for anywhere from $100 to $200 dollars apiece, but then what happens — the precious metals inside are removed from the catalytic converters and sold up to $1,400 a pound,” said Rockville Centre police Lt. James Vafeades.

And as for AHRC Nassau, program participants were angry.

“The strangers are supposed to apologize to us,” said participant Victoria Mendelson.

The organization said it is borrowing vans for the time being from other AHRC organizations. Staffers said it will cost thousands of dollars to repair the vehicles.

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