Pair arrested on hate crime charges for dumping severed cow head at Pa. bovine sanctuary

    Listen
    Dr. Shankar Shastri (right) talks with Pa. State Trooper Carie Gula after the people who dumped a severed cow head at his bovine sanctuary were charged. (Ramaa Reddy Raghavan/for NewsWorks)

    Dr. Shankar Shastri (right) talks with Pa. State Trooper Carie Gula after the people who dumped a severed cow head at his bovine sanctuary were charged. (Ramaa Reddy Raghavan/for NewsWorks)

    Last month we brought you a story about how someone left a severed cow head outside a Hindu cow sanctuary in northeast Pennsylvania.

    Despite not having any video evidence, the state police says it has caught the people behind the act and they’re admitting to it as a hate crime.

     

    Last month we brought you a story about how someone left a severed cow head outside a Hindu cow sanctuary in northeast Pennsylvania.

    Despite not having any video evidence, the state police says it has caught the people behind the act and they’re admitting to it as a hate crime.

    When Pennsylvania State Trooper Carrie Gula showed up at the Lakshmi Cow Sanctuary in Stroudsburg, after receiving the 911 call in March, she was flummoxed. She was unsure as to what to make of the severed cow-head left outside the sanctuary run by Dr. Shankar Shastri.

    “My first impression was alarming,” Gula said. “After speaking to Mr. Shastri it was apparent that he very disturbed and getting to talk to him about this and getting educated about the Hindu religion, it was at that time, I considered this an act of violence.”

    State police spokesman Trooper David Peters says investigations lead colleagues to 19 year old Kimberly McKee and 25 year old Ricky Strausser. He says they lived nearby and were upset that since Shastri bought the land, he closed certain trails to off-road vehicles.

    “We believe that it was kind of concocted or inspired by the doctor buying his property and cutting off certain routes that might have been used for ATV’s and believing that if they did this particular activity, it would scare him to move from the property,” said Peters.  “Obviously we can see that it didn’t work and only united the community a lot better.”

    The presence of a Ku Klux Klan poster in a nearby home’s window caused police to call in the FBI to see if this was connected to an organized hate group.

    “I think that’s where they came in to play,” Peters said. “Just to assist us and provide us with any resources we might have needed had it gone that way but as far as I understand there wasn’t any evidence to indicate it was nothing more that what they transpired to do here to startle and harass the doctor.”

    Peters says the poster was traced to Strausser. After drawing police attention, McKee and Strausser approached Shastri to apologize. They then confessed to the police. Shastri says he is now at peace.

    “Definitely. No question about it more at peace than before this was announced and especially after talking to the two perpetrators face to face,” he said.

    Shastri sais it’s hard to say whether the apologies were real, but he says McKee seemed genuine.

    The charges currently amount to a misdemeanor offense says Trooper Peters and will be heard before a district magistrate on June 10th.

    “Charges were ethnic intimidation, harassment, disorderly conduct, loitering and prowling at night, criminal trespass, and I believe scattering rubbish,” he said. “Obviously we believe we have the evidence and the support for charging someone we believe to be a hate crime.”

    One of Shastri’s neighbors, Lancelot Owens, who’s been living in the area for 10 years says this is not typical behavior for local residents.

    “We have a cross-section of all type of ethnic people here,” Owens said. “We haven’t had any problems like this before and I am glad this is behind us and we can go forward from here.”

    Bruce Labar, another neighbor who retired from dairy farming has known Shastri for 20 years. He’s upset people would do such a thing just because they couldn’t ride on some trails.

    “It wasn’t right. Your land is your land,” Labar said. “He has all the rights in the world to close it off. I know when I had a dairy farm in the valley, people said I’d never make it but I did. I think he’s doing a good thing.”

    Solving this crime took lots of cooperation and tips from the community. Trooper Peters says he knows it’s tough for people to report hate crimes, but he’s encouraging them to speak up.

    “Don’t stand back and let this happen to you. We will do everything in our power to bring these people to justice for you. Unfortunately we need support, we need evidence, but we don’t want you to think we can’t do anything,” he said.

    Although Shastri is relieved, he is still anxious especially for the security and wellbeing of his bovines. The police have promised to spend a day with him, as well as at the local Hindu temple and Arsha Vidya, to figure out ways to beef up their current security.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.