KAILUA-KONA — For the last year or so, farmland throughout Naalehu has been the site of several grisly slayings — just not the kind that typically make the news.
The killings have flown under the public’s radar, mostly due to who, or rather what, the victims are — livestock. Specifically cows.
The edge of Armando Rodriguez’s 34-acre coffee farm in Naalehu is the most recent crime scene. There, on Thursday, the family discovered the bloated, decaying corpse of a 1-year-old, 800-pound heifer, given to Rodriguez’s 5-year-old son by his grandfather.
It was one of eight or nine cows the family owns.
“He cried when he found out about it,” Rodriguez said of his son. “We’re not looking at the monetary part, it’s just the loss of security. You come to Hawaii for peace.”
Rodriguez hails from Phoenix, where he’d experienced far greater loss that lent perspective to the death of the family’s cow last week.
“I come from a big city,” he explained. “I was a victim of crime before. My little brother was killed at a baby shower. They do a lot of drive-by (shootings) down there.”
A former veteran for whom gang violence has hit home in the most unthinkable of ways, Rodriguez is no stranger to men who’ve killed, both in the line of duty and for other purposes.
He said in his mind, there’s something ominous and unsettling about the nature of the cow slaying. Namely that it appears it was done simply for sport. Not for hunting. Not for food. Just for fun.
Other than the gunshot wound, the animal remained in tact. None of its meat was stripped or taken, and Rodriguez said it easily could have been. The family placed the water trough for its livestock near an infrequently used road, and based on the condition of the animal when he came upon it, Rodriguez believes it was lying dead for two to three days before it was discovered.
“Usually when people kill, it’s for food, and they take something,” he said. “But some people, they just like killing. This looks to me like somebody who just enjoys to kill.”
Rodriguez recalled an incident in Arizona several years ago where livestock were being killed for no apparent reason. He said the perpetrators ended up graduating to killing humans, taking the lives of several people before police finally apprehended them.
“Killers get (comfortable), and then they start going after bigger game,” he said.
The Rodriguez family reported the incident to Naalehu police, who were unavailable for comment Friday due to Thanksgiving weekend. West Hawaii Today is scheduled to speak with the investigating office about the crime early this week.
Guy Galimba, a cattle rancher in Naalehu for near a quarter century who sold Rodriguez’s father the animal in question, said nine of his cows have been killed this year alone. Only twice has meat been taken, and even then it’s been very little, he explained.
“There are one or two rustlers now and then who take the meat or take the whole animal. You’d only find the (cow’s) head and maybe the feet, and that was it,” Galimba said. “But these (guys) here, they’re just shooting them for fun.”
He added he’s also filed reports with police, but not every time. Galimba guessed he’s probably filed reports on about half of the incidents.
“It just gets frustrating,” Galimba said. “Nothing gets done other than a report. (The police) can’t really go and find who it is. You basically gotta catch them doing it.”
Galimba’s cows are market, grass-fed animals, each weighing 1,000 pounds or more. And every cow that’s killed costs him between $1,200-$1,800, he said, bringing his yearly losses up to five figures.
He doubts the frequency of the cattle killings on his property is linked to a personal vendetta, as evidenced by what happened at the Rodriguez farm and because Galimba said he knows of another farmer who’s had at least two cows killed in the same fashion.
Rodriguez said he recently heard of a horse being shot on South Point Road, although that has yet to be confirmed.
Galimba said the typical form of killing is to shoot the animal in the head, be it a cow or a horse. But if the shot misses, then the gunman or gunmen start aiming for the body.
“This kid is just getting his kicks out of it,” Galimba said.