Ella, the orphaned deer that made Kansas City’s historic Elmwood Cemetery her home to the delight of nearly everyone who visited, has become part of the place’s history herself.
She was found dead Sunday, shot once through the right shoulder just a few leaps away from the Armour Memorial Chapel where she would hold vigil, looking into the open doors as people held weddings or funerals inside.
The shooter didn’t attempt to take the carcass for meat.
“It’s a complete mystery,” said John Weilert, president of the Elmwood Cemetery Board of Trustees. “She was such a gentle creature. It’s hard to fathom why anyone would do something like that. For heaven’s sake, she’d walk right up to you.”
Ella was born at the cemetery at Truman Road and Van Brunt Boulevard on Memorial Day weekend 2011. Her mother strayed outside the fenced 43-acre cemetery and was killed when struck by a vehicle.
The fawn stayed on and was dubbed Ella — for Elmwood — by volunteers who care for the cemetery where many of Kansas City’s most notable figures are buried. The cemetery was organized in 1872, but the first burial there was in 1840.
Cemetery officials were careful to heed advice from conservationists to treat the deer as the wild animal she was and not to feed her. She seemed to thrive, despite an attack this spring by wild dogs.
Ella became a fixture at the cemetery. She would make the rounds at picnics organized by cemetery supporters. She was the subject of many photographs and a few paintings. She would follow mourners from chapel to graveside, becoming part of the landscape.
“She was such a ray of sunshine,” said Elmwood board member Bruce Mathews. “She brought so much life to this place.”
On the day before civic leader Adele Hall died in January, she inquired from Hawaii about Ella’s well-being.
Just about a week ago, the deer stayed close by for three hours as volunteers worked on the grounds, making their work more pleasant.
Ella also captured hearts far away from Kansas City last fall after she and a stray dog had established a friendship in the cemetery. They were inseparable, but while the deer could survive the winter, the dog could not. She was picked up by Wayside Waifs and was adopted by a family that named her Moxxie.
The dog is doing very well with her new family, which had planned to take Moxxie back to the cemetery to visit Ella, Wayside spokeswoman Jennie Rinas said Monday.
“It certainly broke all of our hearts here at Wayside,” she said of the news that Ella had been killed.
Wayside Waifs collected the deer’s carcass for cremation. Ella’s ashes will be returned to the cemetery. The board will discuss an appropriate spot for them at its meeting this week. One family has already offered to let the ashes be interred on its plot.
“That’s just the kind of sentiment that’s out there,” Weilert said.
Officers of Kansas City Police East Patrol, who kept a protective eye on the deer, were also sorry to learn she had been killed, Mathews said.
Elmwood supporter Anita Gorman, former chairwoman of the Missouri Conservation Commission, said she had asked the state Conservation Department to look into the shooting. But there is little it or the police can do unless someone with information comes forward.
There were no scheduled events at the cemetery on Sunday, but the gate was open as usual. A security company that was closing up found the deer, Mathews said.
“It was someone with a hard heart and a confused mind,” he said of the shooter.