MIAMI (AP) - A South Florida teenager was arrested early Sunday and accused of killing and mutilating the cats of his neighbors - a disturbing string of deaths that has horrified residents and shaken animal lovers in two Miami-area communities.
Tyler Hayes Weinman, 18, was taken into custody at a party, police said. He was still being questioned at Miami-Dade police headquarters while authorities praised the arrest at a press conference Sunday morning.
"I understand that pet owners feel very strongly about their little family members," Miami-Dade County Commissioner Katy Sorenson said. "Animals bring happiness and comfort to our lives. So, to see them so violated and mutilated just defies all common sense and it's painful for everyone involved. Thankfully, for this community, the terror has come to an end."
Weinman was charged with 19 felony counts of animal cruelty, 19
misdemeanor counts of improperly disposing of an animal body and
four felony counts of burglary related to the cat deaths. It is unclear if he has an attorney. Messages left at phone numbers for his parents were not immediately returned and no one answered the door at his home.
"I hope it's not true," said 77-year-old Robert Ehrman, who lives across the street from Weinman and 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."
Jail officials said a court date has been set for July.
In the past month, residents in the Palmetto Bay and Cutler Bay neighborhoods have reported finding more than two dozen cats killed
and mutilated. Some of the dead cats were missing fur - neighbors said some had been skinned - and appeared to have been cut with a sharp, straight instrument, police said.
"It's shocking to think that someone who lives right here and is our neighbor could do something like this," said Thomas Shad, whose small black cat, Miss Kitty, was among those killed.
Shad, whose house is near Weinman's, said he had suspected a local resident might be behind the killings, which were first reported in May. Police said they investigated more than 30 cat deaths - some of them likely caused by dogs - 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."
Miller said the investigation is still open and additional arrests might be forthcoming, 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 to Weinman.
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 an online profile on Facebook.com says that he graduated from Miami Palmetto Senior High
this spring. By Sunday afternoon, there was already a group on the
popular social networking Web site which listed its name in all capital letters as "Tyler Weinman Cat Mutilator! Justice For Miami Cat Mutilations!"
Police said Weinman was twice arrested as a juvenile, though they said they could not provide details about his previous run-ins with the law.
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."
Four of the confirmed cat killings were reported on the street where Weinman lived in a beige-colored house with a bright red door. 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. I was at peace with what was happening," said Mary Lou Shad, who said she cried while she watched the televised press conference on Sunday. "Hopefully he gets what he deserves."