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30 October 2008

16-year-old arrested in killing of crocodile on campus

BUSTED: University of Miami police chief David Rivero addresses the media Thursday, annoucing the arrest of a suspect in the killing of an endangered American Crocodile found on campus. LAUREN WHIDDON // Hurricane Staff

BUSTED: University of Miami police chief David Rivero addresses the media Thursday, annoucing the arrest of a suspect in the killing of an endangered American Crocodile found on campus. LAUREN WHIDDON // Hurricane Staff

UPDATED 6:33 P.M. 10/31/2008

The University of Miami Police Department in conjunction with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) have arrested a 16-year-old in the killing of the 8-to 10-foot crocodile killed in a UM canal Oct. 1.

University of Miami Police Chief David Rivero announced at a press conference Thursday that John Michael Herndon was arrested for the dismemberment of the endangered crocodile.

“A very good tip on Monday, 10 days ago, led us to get a search warrant and find DNA evidence [linked to the perpetrators],” Rivero said.

Rivero, along with Officer Jorge Pino of the FWC, said a total of three juveniles and two adults were involved in the crime. DNA evidence was found at 6780 SW 44 st. Apt. 6 in South Miami, near Coral Lake. While one minor has been arrested, the other is missing. Three of the five involved contributed to the crime but “were not actively involved” in the murder.

“We are still looking for the second subject,” Rivero said.

Their motive was pure game.

“[Herndon] comes from a family of poachers,” Rivero said.

Herndon, who Rivero said showed signs of “remorse” for his actions, was taken back to the scene of the crime to point out the location of significant evidence.

The charges to the five individuals include killing an endangered animal, cruelty to animals, trespassing on school property with a weapon, possession of a burglary tool, grand theft, contributing to delinquency of a child, unlawful use of a two-way communication device, criminal solicitation and criminal conspiracy.

Rivero added that the arrested minor had fished on campus in the past.

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Evidence, including knives and a chum bag used to lure the crocodile from the canal, were recovered.

Herndon told investigators where to find the head of the crocodile, and the Miami-Dade Police Department dive team retrieved it from a lake near campus.

The success of this case, according to Rivero and Pino, sends a message to the local community that “this will not be tolerated.”

“We were all emotionally attached to the croc, who lived here for years,” Rivero said. “That set us off on our investigation.”

In the press conference, UMPD revealed that the investigation was titled “Operation Donna,” after the deceased crocodile’s name.

In addition to the UMPD team of investigators and FWC, Rivero attributes the success of the case largely to Crimestoppers, who facilitated the acquisition of tips, and rewards offered by CompUSA and the Humane Society.

Joshua W. Newman contributed to this article.

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