Thursday, February 8, 2007
Carmel on the Case: Massacre Mystery
Hurricane Katrina continues to take a toll on the people of Louisiana. In one community outside of New Orleans, the struggle for recovery includes a heartbreaking mystery. Who executed dozens of dogs left in schools for safekeeping? Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero with this special assignment report, Massacre Mystery.
WSVN -- The pictures are just too awful to see in detail. Dozens of dogs, including puppies, shot and killed in school rooms where children once studied. The only lesson here is one of unspeakable cruelty.
Kim Davis: "Three dogs. A large one and two smaller ones lying in a pool of blood. It looks like they might have all been gathered together and shot together."
Pleas from their anguished owners not to kill them left on the walls were clearly ignored. One woman left her name and phone number and wrote, "There are dogs and puppies on the second floor. Please save them."
Instead, they were shot and killed.
Hurricane victim: "A lot of people -- about 50 or 60 people -- evacuated to that point and brought their animals with them because they told us we could bring our animals."
In all, would-be rescuers found dead pets in three St. Bernard schools.
John Bozes: "She was all I had. She was all I had."
John Bozes' black lab -- Angel Girl -- was among the dead.
John Bozes: "I knelt down in her blood, and I made a vow to her, to God and to myself and to everyone of those dogs that we saw that was shot. I'm going to find the person who did this."
And Bozes hopes this lawsuit will help him do just that. It is based in part on evidence gathered by Pasado Safe Haven, an animal welfare organization.
It paid for necropsies that show many of the dogs did not immediately die from their gunshot wounds but suffered slow deaths.
Advocates and victims hope the civil lawsuit, which names St. Bernard Parish law enforcement officials, will ultimately hold the shooters accountable.
Eileen Comiskey: "The last people who stayed behind were the pet people. Everybody else pretty much was gone."
Attorney Eileen Comiskey represents the owners. She says the lawsuit will bring out the facts about the ugly violence that took place in this beautiful old school and once and for all solve the massacre mystery.
Eileen Comiskey: "They cannot get through the first three sentences of when we call them or visit them in person without breaking down and sobbing."
Among other things, the lawsuit alleges out-of-state police were told St. Bernard deputies needed shotgun shells because "...they had depleted their supplies on dogs."
Hurricane Katrina hit St. Bernard Parish hard. Even today, many businesses are abandoned and homes are deserted. People who sought shelter with their pets at the schools were later forced to evacuate.
Hurricane victim: "They up and told us then that we couldn't take any of the animals with us, which everybody really went ballistic because you know that was like leaving your kids behind."
Ever since this video of the horror first aired on CNN, there have been suspicions that St. Bernard Sheriff's deputies did the shooting.
Sheriff Jack Stephens: "My reaction is disgust."
At the time, Sheriff Jack Stephens said he gave no orders to exterminate dogs.
Sheriff Jack Stephens: "What I do know is that this is a despicable act and someone who did this has some imperfection in their psyche. And if that someone is a law enforcement officer, they can't be in this business. They're in the wrong business."
Since then, two of his deputies have been indicted for shooting dogs in the street.
Attorney General Charles Foti: "It is disgraceful, distasteful and terrible."
And Louisiana attorney general Charles Foti says the state may take criminal action against those responsible for killing pets in the schools.
Attorney General Charles Foti: "If we can identify the perpetrators, hopefully the grand jury with indict them and then we will take them to trial."
Clearly, rebuilding the brick and mortar of lives broken by Hurricane Katrina is a top priority. But for those whose family pets were massacred, there's also a need for justice.
John Bozes: "And if he's watching, I hope he can't sleep at night, because I want these dogs to haunt you until the day you die."
Their owners, meanwhile, remain haunted by what happened to their "...very nice dogs..."