Senior Prank Gone Wrong

A dead deer was found on the Hoopa Valley High School Gymnasium floor on Tuesday, March 10.

A dead deer was found on the Hoopa Valley High School Gymnasium floor on Tuesday, March 10.

By ALLIE HOSTLER, Two Rivers Tribune

Shock and great sadness overcame students, staff, and the community last Tuesday morning, March 10, when an unused deer carcass was found lying in the center of Hoopa Valley High School’s gymnasium floor.

In a photo found on the social media site Facebook, the deer appeared to be a doe, but school administrators confirmed it was a young buck. Male deer lose their horns at the end of mating season and begin to re-sprout them as soft, velvety nubs that grow and harden into antlers by fall. This young buck didn’t yet have horns.

The school’s principal, Matt Levesque, met with the superintendent, other school staff, and a few community members on Tuesday morning to discuss the situation.

“There are staff members crying because they are so upset,” Levesque said. “This is one of those things where the initial suspicion is that it was a stupid prank gone horribly wrong. Whether intentional or not, local folks are hurt deeply by the significance of the deer.”

Levesque declined to reveal the suspects’ identities because they are juvenile students at the school. School administrators also declined to state the number of suspects.

In a follow-up interview, Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District Superintendent Jon Ray said the matter was still under investigation and that the school was not prepared to give details to the press.

“One [of the suspects] may have been 18 years old, but those details are not yet available,” Ray said.

Ray said some of the activity was captured on school surveillance cameras and that although the suspects broke into the gym, there was no property damage aside from cleanup.

“It’s not being taken lightly,” Ray said. “We have no criminal citing authority, but on the school side, the school board will be making the decisions.”

Humboldt County Sheriff’s Deputy Deimer responded to the school’s call on the morning of the incident. With respect to the school’s desire to keep details private until the investigation is complete, Deimer only said that two charges were being considered, both misdemeanors: breaking and entering, and malicious mischief—a charge similar to vandalism, but without monetary damage.

“I believe the incident will be handled not so much on the criminal side, but on the cultural side,” Deimer said.

Because of the cultural implications, Ray said the school district is looking for guidance from local elders and the Hoopa Valley Tribe’s cultural committee.

“We are viewing it as if it was an attack on culture and religion,” Ray said. “That’s the seriousness with which we’re approaching the incident.”

A source close to the suspects was careful not to condone the actions, but said the incident escalated from a spontaneous “senior prank” to something that could be viewed as a crime against humanity.

“The intent was a senior prank that escalated into something far beyond the desires of what the youth wanted to do. After all is said and done, they are youth. They are our youth and restitution needs to be served and paid. These kids know they were wrong and a heavy price is going to be paid,” the source said.

Deer blood and entrails were found throughout the school hallways and on the gymnasium floor.

High school staff called the maintenance department, which sent an employee to help deal with the dead deer. This employee reportedly took the deer to the mountains, where he prayed for it and disposed of it in a respectful manner. The employee declined to comment and phone calls to the school’s maintenance department were not returned.

Levesque said both Monday and Tuesday were staff in-service days and no students were on campus. Because of the irregular schedule, the school’s alarm system was not set appropriately on Monday night and the campus entrance near the football field was not locked or even closed.

“Nobody can remember anything like this happening at the school ever before,” Levesque said. “This is a serious issue and it’s definitely not a good thing, but the outcome could be positive. It’s providing an opportunity for students to confess and reach out for forgiveness.”

Because Hoopa manages its own wildlife populations, including black-tail deer, California and U.S. Fish and Wildlife wardens were not summoned to help with the incident. In Hoopa, there are no laws that prevent Hoopa tribal members from hunting deer year-round, day or night, as a means to provide food for their families in a culturally acceptable way.

Within local tribal culture, deer are regarded as an important and respected species due to their seemingly self-sacrificial nature to provide food for humans.
An educational DVD that highlights ethical hunting practices in Hoopa is available at the Hoopa Valley Tribal Forestry Department.

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