Weekly editorial assistant Amanda Parsons receives all kinds of phone calls during the day. On the other end of the receiver--generally--are your garden-variety nutbars, droolers and shim shamsters. But the call she received Wednesday afternoon was different. Angela Jolitz was distraught. She's lived in Tustin for 15 years and never saw anything like what was burned into her head around 10 p.m. Tuesday. "Burned" is the key word: someone had set a cat on fire.
"My best friend came home from a movie and saw something flickering down the street and thought it was cat eyes," said Jolitz when contacted later. "The flickering quickly turned into flames."
As the residents near Mitchell and Walnut in the Broadmoor neighborhood moved closer, they could see an orange cat, perhaps a tabby, engulfed in flames. Someone immediately called the police. The Tustin Police Department log shows they received an "Animal 597" (cruelty to animals) call from the 14300 block of Wildeve Lane--Jolitz's street--at 10:25 p.m.
Shortly after officers arrived, they blocked off the street. Witnesses told them they had seen two Hispanic kids, 15 or 16 years old, walking rather quickly on Wildeve before the blaze began. An animal control officer who arrived later told the crowd the cat appeared to have been killed before it was doused with something flammable and torched.
"It was a horrible situation," Jolitz said. "It was sad."
Officers found it difficult determining who the cat belonged to. It was wearing no collar. Jolitz believed the kitty may have been a stray a neighbor across the street regularly feeds. "It's not like someone decided to bring a cat there and light it on fire," Jolitz said. "This cat had been here before."
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Broadmoor felines may be targeted, she surmised, because another neighborhood cat was mysteriously poisoned a couple weeks ago. Stories immediately swirled that LA street gangs set cats on fire as part of initiations. There have been past reports out of Atlanta about puppies being burned as a gang-initiation ritual. Whatever is happening, it's made Jolitz change the way she treats her own pet. "The cat is staying in the house," she said. "It makes you scared to have your animals outside."
Tustin Police assigned an investigator to the case, but Jolitz suspects this will be considered a minor case in the grand scheme of things. She's noticed her once quiet, crime-free neighborhood has changed over the past five years of so. "It's deteriorated so much. I wouldn't let my kids outside by themselves."
But until Tuesday night, most gang-related problems involved the tagging of nearby buildings, she said.
"It's scary. I have kids. You'd think Orange County was nice and safe. People all over the world want to move here. Then you see a cat down the street on fire. It's horrible."