TOMS RIVER – Around 20 people, concerned about incidents of animal cruelty, came out for a vigil in front of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office on Hooper Avenue.
The vigil was held to mark the first anniversary of an incident involving a raccoon who was trapped by several teenagers in Lacey Township and who beat the animal to death.
“Yes, it’s been a full year since that poor animal was tortured and murdered for the entertainment of two Lacey Township kids, and the Ocean County Prosecutor has yet to share any information on it,” Lacey resident Barry Bendar said.
Bendar was among those who organized the candlelight vigil in memory “of this horrific event.”
Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer said earlier “this matter was fully and thoroughly investigated by the Lacey Township Police Department Detective Bureau, the New Jersey Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.”
Billhimer also said, “while we appreciate the concerns expressed by certain members of the public relative to this investigation, the fact remains that the incident in question involved juveniles. As a matter of law, by statute, information concerning juveniles shall be strictly safeguarded from public inspection and dissemination.”
Bendar and other members of the Lacey Raccoon Task Force that organized the vigil feel that more details could be made available to the public about this case.
Susan Russell, Fairhaven, is a member of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey. She came out to the vigil and expressed her organization’s view that the trapping law allowing for the beating of animals needs to be changed. “Five states have banned this and the foothold trap should also be banned. It has been known to snare endangered species like the bobcat.”
Joyce, a resident of Toms River who did not wish to disclose her full name, is involved in raccoon re-habitation who said that “this was cruel. Raccoons are intelligent animals and this one didn’t deserve to die like that.” Joyce said she helped relocate many raccoons to wooded areas and one incident involved a raccoon mother who had been poisoned and he relocated the baby “who we called ‘Lucky’ as he was dehydrated and he would have died. We took him in and released him later.”
Jennifer Smith of Tinton Falls is a member of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey and came out to a vigil held last year shortly after the raccoon’s murder had been brought to light.
“We want to see a change in the laws. It is sad. I know there is a law protecting the juveniles but we’d like to see justice in this case and we’d like to know what is going on,” Smith said.
“This Office, as the chief law enforcement agency of Ocean County, would be violating the very law we are sworn to uphold if we were to comment on an investigation involving juveniles. I am keenly aware of the public outcry regarding this matter, I am however constrained by the law,” Billhimer had said.
Allison Lemke, Lacey, is a co-founder of the task force and showed video footage of the slaughter of the raccoon shot by one of the two teenagers responsible for the raccoon’s death during the vigil. This same footage had been viewed by members of the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife Council in March.
The Council stated that the raccoon had been treated inhumanly but refused to revoke the trapping license from the youths, and referred the matter back to the County prosecutor’s office to handle.
Lemke, Bendar and Pat Doyle, Lacey each worked on promoting a petition as members of the Lacey Task Force “to bring attention to what happened and to see that something is done,” Lemke said.
The petition has 8,900 signatures according to Bendar.
“There is no excuse for animal abuse,” Doyle yelled out during the vigil.
Lacey resident Lisa Tarzia said that in the closing days of Governor Chris Christie’s administration, authority was put in the hands of county prosecutor’s office to enforce areas of animal cruelty violations. The change in procedure also called for each municipality to have its own Humane Law Enforcement Officer.
Tarzia also brought up that many reports have indicated “that young people involved in sadistic actions in killing animals often graduate to more violent crimes toward people” and the members of the task force wanted to know if any counseling of the two youths would be involved in any punishment issued to them.
Patricia McDevitt of Middletown is another member of the Lacey Task Force that came out for the three-hour vigil. She wrote a poem that was on one of the posters at the vigil and stood in front of a large sign for most of the rally. “This animal was sadistically killed for the entertainment of two individuals and that is wrong. Things like this need to stop and stronger laws are needed.”