PITTSFIELD – A proposed convoy to press prosecutors to hand out stern punishment to two teen-age boys who confessed to shooting two horses in a field last month is getting support from around the world, according to its organizers.
The convoy, planned for next Saturday morning from the site of the shootings to the Somerset County Courthouse, will be matched simultaneously by convoys in Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. Organizers expect more than 200 vehicles, including trucks and horse trailers, to join in the Somerset County action.
“My phone has not stopped ringing,” said Stacy Bourdeau of Plymouth, one of the convoy’s organizers. “I put the kids in my van, go to close the door, and I have to run back inside to answer the phone. This is phenomenal.”
Bourdeau said the original intent of the convoy was to send a message to District Attorney David Crook that “we didn’t want these kids to receive just a slap on the hand. We want them to understand the [seriousness] of what they said they did.”
The group’s flier states that the organizers want the teen-agers, if convicted, “to receive the appropriate and meaningful legal penalties.” Bourdeau said that the group is not calling for the boys’ prosecution as adults at this time, but “if they are mature enough to have a license to use a gun, they’re mature enough for the consequences of its misuse.”
Bourdeau said that as word spread of the horses’ deaths, so did public outrage and the sense that when such cases end up in court, the punishment is often much less than one would expect.
Animal abuse and an apparent lack of state response to such complaints have topped the agendas of most animal groups in the state in recent months, and have been topics of a recent study conducted by the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee and the Animal Welfare Division of the Maine Department of Agriculture.
“It is not just animal lovers that feel this way,” said Bourdeau. “Compassionate human beings all over the world are outraged when animals are abused or killed. I have to say that this act, this senseless killing of these two horses, has truly begun a trail of tears around the world.”
Two 16-year-old boys, one from Pittsfield and the other from Waterville, confessed to killing the horses with high-powered rifles on Saturday, Nov. 25, while the horses grazed in a pasture. They also have admitting shooting at a tractor-trailer passing by on Interstate 95. The truck was damaged but no accident resulted.
According to state police, the boys have been charged with two felony counts of reckless conduct with a firearm and one count of criminal mischief. More charges are being investigated. Both boys remain with their parents.
Bourdeau said that the convoy idea began a week ago with a flier and a couple of e-mails sent to other horse owners. Since then, the word has “spread like wildfire,” she said, through e-mails, two-way radios, media reports and word-of-mouth. Bourdeau has heard from people in several foreign countries and more than a dozen other states, including a group of 40 horse fanciers from New York who say they are driving to Pittsfield next week to participate.
Sarah Brooks of Portage is organizing an Aroostook County convoy that will come down and join the Somerset County group. Brooks operates a saddle expedition business that stops on Nov. 1. “We are right in the heart of hunting country and we don’t want our horses shot. We live in fear throughout the hunting season,” said Brooks.
“I hope this sends a tremendous statewide message that maybe these two horses didn’t die in vain, that possibly stronger legislative action can come from this. We need to take a closer look at our animal welfare laws and the repercussions.”
Bourdeau said, “When this country was first founded, if you killed my livestock, you were hung. Our laws are reflecting how desensitized we have become. Penalties are harsh if you kill wild animals but if you kill a domestic animal, a little community service is what you get.”
Bourdeau said she is stressing that the convoy’s message is not one of gun control.
“This is not an accidental hunting accident and we don’t want this to turn into a gun issue,” she said. “This is an animal law issue.”
Because the teen-agers allegedly shot and struck a passing tractor-trailer, Brooks said she would hope that other big rigs would join in the convoy.
Brooks is organizing the northern Maine convoy in the Fort Kent, Madawaska, Van Buren and Presque Isle area. She can be reached for information at 435-4371.
Bourdeau, who is helping coordinate the southern and central Maine area, can be reached at 257-4262.