A teenager faces charges in a gruesome string of cat mutilations and killings that have horrified his neighbors and shaken animal lovers in two South Florida communities.
Tyler Hayes Weinman, 18, was charged Sunday with 19 counts each of animal cruelty and improperly disposing of an animal body and four counts of burglary related to the deaths.
In the past month, residents in the Palmetto Bay and Cutler Bay neighborhoods have reported finding the bodies of more than two dozen cats. Police said some were likely killed by dogs. Some were missing fur — neighbors said some had been skinned — and appeared to have been cut with a sharp, straight instrument, police said.
"I hope it's not true," 77-year-old Robert Ehrman said about the teen, who lives across the street from her in Cutler Bay. He called his mother a "lovely person," but said he didn't know the teen well. "It's like a death in the family, I'm sure."
Weinman was taken into custody at a party and was being questioned at Miami-Dade police headquarters. Four of the confirmed cat killings were reported on the street where Weinman lived.
His attorney, David W. Macey, said in an e-mail that Weinman is innocent of the charges.
"Tyler welcomes his day in court, so that he will be completely vindicated," Macey said.
According to online jail records, Weinman was being held on $154,500 bond. Jail officials said a court date was set for July.
Received hundred of tips
The curtains at the small, beige house in the Cutler Bay neighborhood listed on Weinman's arrest affidavit were drawn shut and there were no cars in the driveway. Knocks at the red front door went unanswered. A welcome mat dotted with pictures of paw prints playfully encouraged visitors to "wipe your paws," and a yellow and black crime watch sticker was displayed in the home's front window.
A similar crime watch sticker was displayed in the window at another address for Weinman in nearby Palmetto Bay, along with a red and black warning that told rescue crews a cat lived in the house, in case of a fire. Lights were on inside, but no one answered the door.
Messages left at phone numbers for his parents were also not immediately returned.
"It's shocking to think that someone who lives right here and is our neighbor could do something like this," said Thomas Shad, whose black cat, Miss Kitty, was killed.
Shad, whose house is near Weinman's, said he had suspected a local resident might be behind the killings, which investigators started to examine in May. Police said they investigated more than 30 cat deaths and received hundreds of tips from concerned citizens.
"This is so important to our community," Miami-Dade Police Department Maj. Julie Miller said of the arrest. "So many lives have been affected — children, adults, citizens who didn't even have animals affected."
Arrested twice as a juvenile
Miller said more arrests might be coming, but she declined to name other suspects. Police said they have been watching the house where Weinman stays with his mother, and neighbors said he was taken to the police station for an interview on his prom night a few weeks ago.
Weinman was still wearing a tuxedo when officers whisked him away that night, they said, and he missed the dance.
"If they do get the wrong guy and it's not him, they've ruined his life as it is right now," said 19-year-old Kyle Hantzis, who lives next door.
Hantzis, who said his father dates Weinman's mother, called the teenager quiet and well-spoken. Authorities said Weinman was spending his summer doing odd jobs, and his Facebook page says he graduated from Miami Palmetto Senior High this spring.
Police said Weinman was twice arrested as a juvenile, though they said they could not provide details.
Hantzis said he had a hard time picturing the teen as a serial cat killer. "I don't think, the way he acts and his demeanor, I don't think he could physically do it," he said. Weinman is listed on the jail record as 5 feet, 7 inches tall and 140 pounds.
For the Shads, his arrest brought a sense of relief to their quiet suburban neighborhood that they haven't felt since Miss Kitty's body was found in the grassy yard of an abandoned house.
"I felt that I could rest," said Mary Lou Shad, who said she cried while she watched the televised police news conference on Sunday. "I was at peace with what was happening."