tampabay.com

Llama's brutal death shocks students

Authorities say someone beat the animal on the head in its stall at Gaither High School.

By LETITIA STEIN, Times Staff Writer
Published February 1, 2008


TAMPA - The murder scene was disarmingly bucolic. A broken padlock on a stall door inside the barn. A hammer lying on the hay-strewn floor.

Nearby, an 8-month-old llama was on the ground, the victim of a blow to the head.

Multiple chain-link fences separate the goats, quail and ferret, all present during the attack, from the main campus at Gaither High School.

Adonis, a 175-pound llama, was dead by the time stunned students found him during a visit to care for the animals they are raising through the school's agriculture program.

Three other llamas, along with chickens, pigs and other farm animals living behind the school in northern Hillsborough County, were spared.

"It's very painful," said Christine Staat, a 16-year-old sophomore raising two of the surviving llamas. "It's like they destroyed part of you."

She was one of the students who found Adonis in his stall Wednesday afternoon. The chocolate-colored llama had a bloodied nostril and wasn't breathing.

Hillsborough sheriff's deputies were called to the school. A necropsy was conducted to determine the cause of death - a fractured skull caused by trauma.

Sheriff's investigators had no suspects late Thursday.

At school, speculation swirled around possible student involvement. Assistant principal Henry Strapp noted that it was hard to "imagine an adult doing something of this nature."

In 11 years at Gaither, he has seen pranks involving the agriculture program's animals, but nothing like this.

"It tears you apart, especially in this day and age," he said. "We're supposed to be a gentler nation."

The 10th-grade boy who owned Adonis was at school Thursday but didn't want to speak to the media crews crowding into the barn-turned- crime-scene.

Strapp said he was doing well under the circumstances.

Adonis only recently joined the school's agricultural program, where students were teaching the llama to navigate an obstacle course. They train llamas to do jumps, weave between cones and maneuver a teeter-totter.

Adonis' sweet disposition made him a quick favorite. Students spoiled him with alfalfa treats and sweet feed.

Christine said the boy who owned Adonis saved money from an after-school job to buy the llama. The animals, which on average weigh 250-500 pounds and are 45 inches tall at the shoulder and 5-6 feet at the head, can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand for show-quality animals. She estimated Adonis' value at around $1,000.

Christine said they make caring pets, eager to cuddle and play outside. She said it's terrifying to know the llama killer remains at large. School officials were planning Thursday to further strengthen the barn door.

"It makes me really mad that someone could do something like that to one of these animals, who are so innocent and don't do anything except love on you," she said.

Times researcher Angie Holan contributed to this report. Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or 813 226-3400. Visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

 

How to help

Gaither High School offers a $500 reward for information through its crime watch program. Anyone with details is asked to call the Sheriff's Office at (813) 247-8200 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-8477.