The killing of a beloved local mascot has landed one man in trouble with the law, and at odds with his neighbors. Phoenix Vankirk, 19, was issued a ticket for taking a deer out of season when he shot and killed a young doe in Kansas City, Missouri. The doe, named “Ella” by the locals, has been living in the Elmwood Cemetery for several years. Her death has caused outrage not only among cemetery officials, but the many residents who considered her a community mascot.
According to The Kansas City Star, Ella was found dead in the cemetery early last month. Acting on information from a tipster, deputies with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office eventually traced the shooting back to Vankirk, who lives nearby. Vankirk claims that he spotted the deer on the night of August 3 and thought about shooting it to feed his family. He told investigators that he waited behind a tree for the deer to approach, and then fired at it with a .45 caliber handgun through the cemetery fence. It was only when he went to retrieve the deer that he realized he could not open the gate. The carcass was left behind.
“Vankirk stated that he shot the deer and watched it run a short distance and then fall to the ground,” stated the police report.
The shooting violated numerous laws and regulation aside from hunting deer out of season. Kansas City also allows only archery and muzzleloader methods of harvesting in its urban deer season. Many are calling for a tougher punishment than the citation that Vankirk received, which carries with it a fine of $1,000 and up to one year in jail.
“It’s certainly in the public interest that the person will be held accountable,” said John Weilert, president of the Elmwood Cemetery board of trustees. “We can only deal with what’s on the books, in terms of laws, but I think the community has pretty well expressed outrage over this kind of behavior, and that’s something that the person is going to have to live with.”
Ella was born on cemetery grounds in 2011. The young deer was soon orphaned after a car accident killed her mother, but Ella manged to survive inside behind Elmwood’s fences. Cemetery officials made minimal efforts to oust the deer and were careful to not feed her. In time Ella became a favorite of the cemetery’s guests, who found some comfort in seeing the deer while visiting departed loved ones. The young doe was curious and had little fear of humans, growing up inside the cemetery. She often accompanied funeral parties from a distance.
“She was such a ray of sunshine,” said Elmwood board member Bruce Mathews. “She brought so much life to this place.”
Ella’s remains have been cremated and will be interred during a public ceremony later this month.
NBC41’s report of the incident can be seen below: