A couple hundred people turned out tonight to light candles, sing and tell stories as they mourned a beloved bull elk killed on Mapleton Hill in Boulder.
"He was a beautiful animal," said Nancy Platt, of Boulder. "He was hurting nobody. He didn't deserve what he got."
The elk was fatally shot by an on-duty Boulder police officer, who has since been placed on paid administrative leave, pending the results of an internal investigation.
A second off-duty officer, suspected of assisting in loading the animal's body into a pickup truck and taking it away to be processed for meat, also was placed on leave.
Vigil organizer Jim Riemersma said he wanted to give the neighborhood an opportunity to grieve, celebrate and find "a little bit of closure." The vigil was held on Mountain View Road at the site of a tree memorial and near the yard where the elk was shot.
"I know a lot of us have had a lot of anger, a lot of questions, a lot of uncertainty," he said. "Tonight's a celebration, a celebration of the elk. We loved him. But I think he loved us, too, because he returned to this neighborhood."
Still, emotions ran hot, with multiple calls to "fire the cops" and "jail the poachers." A meeting between Boulder Chief Mark Beckner and residents concerned about the shooting is planned for Monday.
"People live here because we love the wildlife," said Esther Parson, who lives in the foothills west of Boulder. "To murder an animal who feels like he's part of the neighborhood is despicable."
The vigil included a mix of people from the neighborhood and animal lovers from the surrounding area. Meghan Stephens, of Louisville, said she came with her husband and 14-month-old daughter to lend support to her sister, who lives in the neighborhood.
"It was a beautiful, beautiful elk," she said.
The elk had been spotted for several weeks on Mapleton Hill between 9th and 11th streets, and residents of the area gave conflicting reports as to whether it had behaved aggressively toward humans.
Numerous people living in the neighborhood insisted that it had not, that it appeared to be healthy, and said that they considered it their "guardian." The elk had been a regular visitor for two years, they said.
"He was part of the neighborhood," said resident Bobby Brown.
George Pappageorge said he would see the elk eating berries on his bushes when he checked the mail, adding they would be almost "nose to nose" without any aggression from the elk.
"It's sad he won't be coming back," he said.
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