LAKEWOOD – The photo has been shared thousands of times – a woman walking a group of children to a van. The story behind the photo – the real story – not so much.
What most people know is that someone witnessed a group of kids attacking geese in the industrial park in Lakewood. After the picture was posted on Facebook, it has taken on a life of its own. People made all sorts of assumptions about the people in the photo, as well as the person taking the photo.
The photographer spoke to JerseyShoreOnline to explain that this was not an isolated incident, and that hopefully the geese are now safe. She chose not to use her name because it has spread through social media enough, and that she doesn’t want her employer to be involved.
The building where she works overlooks a lake, which is home to a family of geese. The incidents took place over the course of a week, starting May 13.
On Monday, she heard a commotion outside. By the time she got to the window, she saw a group of boys clapping, yelling, and charging at the geese. She didn’t report it because she didn’t see the entire interaction. It’s possible that the boys were just walking by and the geese went after them. There were no adults and no vehicles.
On Tuesday, she heard the geese honking again. This time, she looked outside to see one of the boys hit a goose with a stick. Again, there were no adults or vehicles around. She shouted to them but they didn’t hear.
She went out after work, after they left, and took a picture. She’s not supposed to use her phone at work so it wasn’t handy when the boys were there. These pictures of the geese inspecting the nest and broken eggs were forwarded to this newspaper.
On Wednesday, she saw them swinging a stick at the birds again. She shouted “I’m calling the police” out the window, and this time, they heard her. She did call the police after work, and they promised to do a drive-by the next day.
On Thursday, there was no incident.
On Friday, the infamous picture was taken. This was the only time that there was an adult with them, and a vehicle. “This time, they hit the goose so hard, they knocked it into the water,” she said.
She called police, but by the time they arrived, the kids were gone. Animal control accompanied them. They said the goose looked unhurt so they didn’t want to move the nest.
On Sunday, she met with an officer from the Division of Fish and Wildlife at the site and that’s when the nest was inspected. This officer said the nest contained four healthy eggs, and one with a slight crack. It was unclear how it got a crack, and couldn’t be confirmed that it was caused by human intervention.
She hasn’t seen any kids go to the site since.
The fact that the Fish and Wildlife officer’s investigation was inconclusive made some people speculate that the incident was a hoax, made to target the kids in the picture. The photographer said that while there was one egg cracked, there’s no telling how many eggs there were before the kids came by.
Other people had very angry reactions – wanting to hurt the kids in the picture, which was not what she wanted to happen either.
“Everyone is out for blood, and I just want them to be safe,” she said. “I’m doing it because I’m an animal lover. The geese seem happy. I’ve named them Hope and Chance,” because she hopes that she has given them a chance at having a safe life.
She said all the social media speculation made her wonder if she did the right thing. But “I saved a life – I saved two lives. If the eggs hatch, I saved however many babies.”
Lakewood Capt. Gregory Staffordsmith said an officer researched a mitzvah – a commandment – called shiluach haken, “sending of the nest.” Before this incident, the captain said he’d never heard of it, and the department had never received any calls about it in town.
“If you find a nest and want to take the eggs or young birds, you first need to send away the mother and only then may you take the eggs or the young birds for yourself. This is the mitzvah known as shiluach haken (“sending of the nest”),” according to Chabad.org. “Note that this is one of only two acts for which we are promised the reward ‘that it should be good for you, and you should lengthen your days.’”
Staffordsmith wouldn’t speculate if that’s what was happening in this situation, or if this was simply a mother and children who were attempting to feed geese and had to shoo them away because they became too aggressive. The investigation is ongoing.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Lakewood Police Sgt. Kenneth Burdge at 732-363-0200 or the Division of Fish and Wildlife at 609-292-2965.
–Jennifer Peacock contributed to this story