Young and old mourn Ella the cemetery deer

09/14/2013 8:29 PM

09/14/2013 8:29 PM

Ella was a gentle creature whose presence eased the pain of grieving visitors at Elmwood Cemetery.

On Saturday, about 200 people gathered at the historic cemetery in the heart of Kansas City to grieve and remember her.

Ella — the deer that made her home on the 43-acre cemetery grounds at Truman Road and Van Brunt Boulevard — was found shot to death in early August.

Her body was cremated and on Saturday, a group of children who had come to know her during a summer camp program carried the urn with her ashes from the cemetery chapel to the spot where she will be buried.

Frisbie Monuments donated a gray granite memorial for Ella. It features an image of the deer and the stray dog that had been her companion, and it is punctuated with a Biblical verse from the book of Job: “But ask the animals and they will teach you.”

As visitors gathered around, the children, wearing T-shirts that said “Young heroes for pets,” stood in front of Ella’s memorial and sang what cemetery officials thought was an appropriate song: “Do-Re-Mi.”

One of the kids, 8-year-old Atticus Straley, said Ella sometimes walked right up to him and nuzzled him with her nose.

“She was really a special friend. I consider her family,” Atticus said. “I loved her very much, and I always will.”

Ella was born at the cemetery on Memorial Day weekend 2011, and she continued to live there after her mother was killed by a vehicle outside the fence.

Ella’s story went national last year when she and a stray dog bonded and kept each other company. The dog had to be removed when winter set in and was subsequently adopted, but Ella remained.

She would stand outside the chapel during services and, at a distance, follow people to grave sites.

“I still look for her out here,” said John Weilert, president of the cemetery board of trustees.

Many people who came Saturday had their personal Ella stories.

Barbara Betsworth of Independence has three generations of her family buried at Elmwood and had many encounters with Ella. Sometimes, Betsworth would stop on her way home from work just to see the deer.

Her daughter, Victoria Dunfee, brought a mineral block during the winter and left it at the cemetery for Ella.

Chris Meck arranged the music at Saturday’s event. Elmwood is a special place to him because it is where his wife, musician Abigail Henderson, was buried after her death last month.

“Ella is the reason we chose this place,” he said.

A 19-year-old Kansas City man who lived nearby is charged with the misdemeanor of taking a deer out of season for shooting Ella. He told investigators that he shot Ella with the intention of getting food for his family but was thwarted by the cemetery’s locked gate.

He told authorities he had no idea that she was tame and well known in the community.

The children who took part in Saturday’s service had met the deer at a summer camp with the Great Plains SPCA. Cards they wrote and illustrated were displayed outside the chapel, including one that said: “I bet she was a great friend. She will allways live in your hearts.”

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