Cats are missing in the Rim Country, and pet owners are suspicious. Because, at the same time, at least one video depicting the killing of a cat has been shown by a high school senior on the Payson High School campus.
Some of the cats have been shot with pellet guns, and others were chased and beaten with sticks and baseball bats.
One cat, Moggie, owned by Mark and Lynn Garner of Pine, was shot and killed with a pellet gun by a 17-year-old boy.
The boy told the Gila County Sheriff's Office that the cat was on his parents' property and looked like a feral cat, so he shot him in the head with a pellet gun before putting the cat into a garbage bag and throwing it in a creek bed.
Lt. Tim Scott from the Gila County Sheriff's Office said the teenager is going to be charged with animal cruelty.
Lynn Garner said her cat, Moggie, has no tendencies that a feral cat exhibits.
"This cat never went 100 feet from our home," she said. "He was a lovable cat and was as friendly as could be."
When the Garners returned to Pine from Payson on Nov. 16, their cat was nowhere to be found.
After a few hours, the Garners walked the neighborhood looking for Moggie.
"We were shocked, because we knew something was wrong," she said.
After returning home, she told her husband about a trash bag she saw 150 feet from their home and asked if he would look inside it. Inside the bag, Mark found Moggie with a pellet shot to the head.
"The cat did not have a mark on it, except for a spot on the head," Mark said.
Because the killing was intentional, the Garners called the police.
"At this point, I knew we were dealing with someone who was sick," Lynn said.
The Garners are not the only ones who lost their cat.
Rena Rogers, who has taken in about 20 feral cats, said she saw a group of eight teens armed with baseball bats and sticks rush her cats on Nov. 16.
She said they ran off when they saw her.
On Nov. 18, Rogers said, the teenagers returned and fired a pellet gun into her yard.
A neighbor, who works for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, heard the shot and ran outside just in time to spot and identify the driver of the truck.
Rogers said the Game and Fish employee went to the home of the driver, but the driver refused to answer the door.
Patti Blackmore from Pine Country Animal Clinic in Payson said a resident recently brought in his cat that had been shot in the eye with a pellet gun. The cat lived, but the eye had to be removed.
Lynn Garner said the teenager who shot her cat told police that the cat he shot was on his doorstep and was feral.
"He admitted to killing our cat," she said.
"He said he figured it was a feral cat because it did not have a collar on it."
But she believes there is more to the story. Some of the students suspected of killing the cats have made videos of the act and have shown them to classmates.
Joe Frye, a teacher at Payson High School, said one of the students was showing a video on his cellular phone of two people kicking and killing a cat.
"One young lady had witnessed two students kicking and killing a cat on a cell phone and felt disturbed by it," he said.
Lynn Garner said she is starting to see more and more cats in Pine disappearing.
"From what I am told about these boys ... they hate cats," she said. "There is a difference between a killer and a hater."
Mark Garner said the boy who admitted to killing Moggie came to their door with his father to apologize.
"It's a big deal, and it's a big deal to us," he said, adding he could not even talk to the two.
"There is no way we would accept the apology," he said. "He is sorry that he got caught."
Lynn Garner compared the death of her cat to the loss of a child, and the crime has left her shaken.
"We have lost our sense of security," she said. "I feel so violated. I felt safe. I feel like I am no longer safe."
Rogers said three of her cats have disappeared and cannot be found. She thinks they may have been killed by the teenagers.
"I am afraid to leave at night because they might come back," Rogers said, adding that she was spaying and neutering feral cats at her own expense.
Lisa Boyle, vice president of the Payson Humane Society and founder of Payson Friends of Ferals, said what is happening in Pine is murderous and wrong.
In 2005-2006, 564 feral cats were euthanized by the Humane Society, she said, which might have sent the wrong message to children.
"Young people need to understand that every life is precious," Boyle said. "They killed someone's family pet. They knew it was not a feral cat. It got shot execution-style.
"They are thinking these are just cats and they don't matter."
See related editorial:
Cat killings not childhood antics; must be taken seriously