Why You Shouldn’t Suggest A Serial Killer is on the Loose

Update: The Ledger reported June 6 “forensic tests have confirmed that coyotes are behind a recent spate of cat mutilations in several Lakeland neighborhoods, ending months of speculation over what or who might have been responsible.”



Lakeland Police Department has provided another example of a Public Relations 101 lesson learned the hard way.  This latest lesson in how NOT to handle a potential crisis comes from events surrounding some mutilated cats.


Photo credit: FonePics

In April, some residents in the southeast Lake Hollingsworth area reported finding three mutilated cats, and many other residents reported missing cats. One cat was taken to  a local veterinarian, who said it had been cut by a knife. Enter Lakeland police spokesman Gary Gross, who told media outlets This is how serial killers start.” All hell broke loose.

Let me say this: I get it. A veterinarian says the cat was cut by a knife, and you take their word for it because this person is a trained medical professional. But what if…they’re wrong? Is this particular veterinarian trained in forensic pathology? Should an LPD spokesman send a city into panic mode like that? People were feverishly writing social media posts about how they hoped police “caught this weirdo soon.”

I have the benefit of hindsight at this point, so I say the answer is a firm NO. You don’t send a community into a tizzy until you know for sure what you’re talking about.

The Ledger reported May 6 that a veterinary forensic pathologist has examined the dead cats and determined they were killed by a predatory animal- not a trenchcoat-wearing serial killer in the making. DNA samples should identify the animal species in three to four weeks, the article stated

Let’s make this a lesson for us all: in a crisis, don’t publicly jump to conclusions and make assumptions that can escalate a situation when it has the potential send people into a frenzy. Deal?

Now that the mystery of the half-eaten cats is solved, I can say this situation brought me some hilarious  Facebook posts from friends:

  • From Brian Hall, who’s a laugh a minute in person and on Facebook: “This animal won’t stop with cats. It is obviously demented, and has no place in rational society. It may start with cats, but mark my words…..soon its anti-societal blood lust will make it crave a bigger challenge: Man. Our best hope is to provide it psychological counseling and help it adapt back into society where it can find gainful employment at a Wal-Mart or Denny’s, and learn to raise a family and be happy. We may already be too late…”
  • From Tammy Wright: “Because a community that is already locked, loaded & trigger happy NEEDS to think that any teenager holding a cat could be a serial killer.”
  • From Melissah Bruce-Weiner: “On a related note, I might know where my Chupacabra went to after he moved out.”

Keep it weird, Lakeland!