FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Authorities in northern Arizona are investigating an animal cruelty case in which a kitten was buried up to its neck in concrete inside a metal pipe but didn't survive.
The cat was rescued in late May from a 7-foot-tall metal pipe being used in the construction of a horse shelter in Colorado City, located in a remote area between the Grand Canyon and Utah. It died days later at an animal sanctuary in Kanab, Utah.
Andrew Chatwin, who poured the concrete and discovered the kitten the following day, said Wednesday that he believes the kitten was encased in retaliation for his and another man's criticism of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to which they used to belong.
An attorney for the church, Rodney Parker, said there is no evidence the church or any of its members were involved. The Colorado City Marshal's Office took pictures and interviewed nearby residents but has tabled the case, citing a lack of leads.
"It's an extremely sad incident, and it's an ongoing investigation," said acting Chief Marshal Helaman Barlow. "If anyone has any leads, please contact the marshal's office."
Chatwin, 44, was pushed out of the church more than a decade ago after a dispute with FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, who is imprisoned in Texas after being found guilty last year of sexually assaulting two of his two dozen underage brides. Chatwin was building a horse shelter for fellow apostate Isaac Wyler about a block from where he lives in Hildale when he found the kitten, meowing inside the pipe on May 31.
Chatwin cut away the pipe and chipped at the concrete with a hammer, documenting the rescue with this video camera. He then took the kitten to Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, where the staff named it Thomas. Society spokeswoman Barbara Williamson said staff members worked to remove the remaining concrete from the kitchen, but it died from injuries on June 4.
Chatwin and Wyler have been working with Salt Lake City accountant Bruce Wisan on his management of the United Effort Plan – the church's $114 million communal property trust. Chatwin has videotaped Wyler delivering tax and other notices for more than two years to homes of FLDS members in the twin towns of Hildale and Colorado City, which he said has pushed himself and Wyler even further out of favor in the communities.
It's unlikely the kitten climbed the metal pole itself and fell into the concrete, Chatwin said, but he allowed that "I don't know who did it, physically." He said other dead animals have been placed on Wyler's property, and he videotaped those incidents as well.
"I have to take it as a hate message," he said.
Town Marshal Curtis Cook wrote in his report that he interviewed several neighbors who did not witness the incident and didn't know who would have inflicted the abuse. Parker said the location does not indicate the abuse was connected to the church.
The FLDS practices polygamy, a legacy of early Mormon church teachings that held plural marriage brought exaltation in heaven. However, the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned the practice in 1890 as a condition of Utah's statehood and excommunicates members who engage in the practice.
"It's really inappropriate to try to extend that the FLDS church on the basis of nothing at all, except a dead cat," Parker said. "They don't even have evidence it was a church member, let alone the church."
Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan, whose office recently began patrolling Colorado City under a grant from the state attorney general's office, said his deputies also would pursue the case if they can develop leads.
"We're looking to see if there's anything we can do about it because it's absolutely cruel," he said.