Authorities investigating shooting death of family’s pet tortoise in Boone County

ZIONSVILLE, Ind. – Police are investigating after a family’s pet tortoise was shot and killed last week.

According to the Boone County Sheriff’s Office, deputies responded to a call in rural Zionsville on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, where they found the tortoise had been shot.

According to the owner, Tasha Chapel, the 65-lb. African sulcata tortoise, Merlin, had gotten loose in the area near Horseshoe Drive and the Rockbridge subdivision on the afternoon of Thursday, Aug. 31.

Chapel realized he was missing Friday and posted about the missing tortoise on Facebook.

“It’s cold so he is probably burrowed in to keep warm. Please help!! He is about 65lb land tortoise (cannot swim) friendly and curious. Probably a bit scared. Will put himself up for the night at dusk,” she wrote. “He is our very loved pet and we need our big guy back!”

Several people commented that they’d seen pictures of Merlin walking along the road, and Chapel initially held out hope that the tortoise was safe. She later learned he’d been killed.

Chapel said a man who lives at a neighboring farm admitted he’d shot Merlin in the head Thursday night, claiming the tortoise had wandered onto his land and saying he feared Merlin might bite someone.

“I said I hope you know you just killed our pet of 16 years and I have to tell my 15-year-old son that you just shot his pet,” Chapel said.  “They’re beautiful and they’re supposed to be in our lives for 60 to 80 years.  It’s not even a quarter of his lifespan.”

Chapel says Merlin’s breed is not aggressive or dangerous to humans.

“He could have called police, he could have called any of the vet clinics around here, there are a ton of them around here,” she said.  “He could have called Boone County Humane Society.”

According to the Boone County Sheriff’s Office, investigators are in contact with Merlin’s owner, the person who shot him and multiple witnesses in the case. The department said it’s “unclear what the exact circumstances prior to and after the shooting were.”

The sheriff’s office says the case is unusual and they are working with the Department of Natural Resources, the State Board of Animal Health and Boone County Prosecutor’s Office on the investigation.  A report has been sent to the prosecutor's office, but more discussions are needed before deciding whether any charges should be filed.

“Further information regarding possible criminal charges and the details of this incident will be provided at a later date after the investigation is complete,” the sheriff’s office said. “The welfare of all who reside in Boone County is priority, whether human or animal.”