A 19-year-old man says he shot a deer named Ella who lived in a Kansas City cemetery because he wanted to feed his girlfriend and 8-month-old baby.
The Missouri Department of Conservation agent cited Phoenix M. Vankirk for shooting a deer out of season. He faces a fine of $375. If he doesn't pay the fine, then Vankirk would go before a judge who could fine him up to $1,000 plus a year in jail.
If Vankirk pays the fine, which is much like a traffic ticket, then the case is ended.
Vankirk said he didn't realize Ella was tame and beloved in the community, according to court documents.
"During the interview, Vankirk stated he wanted to tell the community that he was extremely sorry and that if he could take back his actions he would and that this was not a malicious act, but an act intended to put food on the table for his family," according to a probable cause statement.
Ella lived on the 43 acres at the Elmwood Cemetery in east Kansas City. She was born in the cemetery and never left. Her mother was killed Memorial Day weekend in 2011 when she was just 3 months old, and Ella became like a pet to the visitors and workers at the cemetery. She loved to watch funerals and weddings from just outside the chapel doorway, and was quite intrigued by humans. She would often walk with humans as they made their way to gravesites. She even would let some pet her.
Bruce Mathews, an advocate for Ella and a cemetery trustee, said he feels sorry for Vankirk for numerous reasons.
"I wish he hadn't done it because it did affect a lot of people," he said. "She touched so many people. Anyone who came here she was a friend to and it was a unique relationship to say the least."
Vankirk was interviewed on Aug. 15, and prosecutors announced the citation on Friday.
The man told the conservation officer and a Jackson County sheriff's deputy that he was on his front porch grilling on Aug. 3 when he saw Ella standing in the grass.
He said he got his .45-caliber handgun. He "jumped the fence of the cemetery and hid behind a tree and waited for the deer to get closer to him." He said after he shot Ella that she ran for a bit before collapsing.
He said he tried to get his vehicle into the cemetery to retrieve her body but discovered the gates were locked.
Vankirk legally owned the gun and he only has minor traffic violations on his record, prosecutors said.
Some don't believe that Vankirk could live so close to the cemetery and not realize she was a tame animal that frequented the area.
Mathews also has his doubts, saying so many in the neighborhood kept a close eye on the deer.
"If he lived in the neighborhood, it's highly probable he did know (Ella) was tame," he said. "I don't understand it. We will see how it all turns out."
A memorial service for Ella will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14 at the cemetery. Children who had visited Ella will be part of the service, which will focus on wildlife, nature, loss and compassion. An urn with Ella's ashes will be buried at the cemetery.
Thousands of dollars had been raised to lead to an arrest in the death of Ella. It was unclear Friday morning whether anyone would be eligible to receive that reward money.
Mansur said prosecutors were limited on what they could charge Vankirk with because the Missouri General Assembly hasn't passed a proposal to make it a felony to discharge a weapon inside city limits. The law has been named on behalf of 11-year-old Blair Shanahan Lane who was struck and killed on Fourth of July 2011 by a bullet fired across a lake by several men celebrating the holiday by shooting off gunfire.
"If the Missouri Legislature had passed Blair's Law, we might have been able to charge him with a felony. But, alas, the General Assembly did not pass," Mansur said in an email. "A unlawful use of a weapon, generally speaking, requires discharge of a firearm from a vehicle, into a house or across a highway. Those didn't occur."
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