Last Update: 5/10/2013 1:47:00 PM
Chester County men face trial in theft of baby Alpaca
For the past 11 years, Daniel Camarote has been raising and breeding alpacas on Kirk's Farm in New London Township, Chester County without incident.
That all changed last December, in a post-Christmas Day prank gone horribly wrong.
On Monday, 20-year-old West Grove, Chester County, resident Zachary Hundshamer was officially held over for trial stemming from an incident on Dec. 26, 2012, where he allegedly jumped the fence at the farm and made off with a baby alpaca, or "cria."
Although the two-month-old alpaca was returned within roughly 12 hours, it wound up expiring a week later. A subsequent necropsy performed by New Bolton Center found that the cria had died from malnutrition - a finding that its owner Daniel Camarote says is a result of its abduction.
Camarote said when he got to the farm to check on his animals on the morning of Dec. 26, he found the cria missing and its mother "humming" to itself - a sign that it was distressed.
"These animals are very sensitive, they get stressed very easily," Camarote said. "When you buy and sell alpacas, you have to do them in pairs because they can't be alone - they're herd animals."
Camarote said he then called his veterinarian to alert them in case someone brought a cria in for treatment. He also contacted the state police and told them he thought the animal had been stolen.
A short time later, Camarote received a phone call informing him that a photograph of his missing 8-pound cria was making its rounds on the social networking site Facebook - along with its alleged abductor.
Eventually, he received another call from a woman who informed him that she knew who took the animal and that it would be returned shortly.
Several hours later, Camarote's daughter met with the woman, who returned the animal her. She then passed it on to her father, who placed the cria back in its pen with its mother.
Camarote said he didn't bother to have the animal examined by a veterinarian, because it appeared fine and was socializing and even starting to eat some hay on its own.
A week later, he found it dead.
According to the arresting officer, Trooper Benjamin Schwedes, Hundshamer confessed to the crime during an interview roughly five weeks after the incident.
When Schwedes arrived to take Hundshamer into custody on an arrest warrant by appointment last Thursday, Hundshamer then allegedly told him that he was not alone in the abduction.
Hundshamer said that 20-year-old Gregory Tompkins, also of West Grove, helped him pass the cria over the fence and provided transportation to the abandoned house he allegedly was keeping it in.
According to court records, however, an interview conducted by Schwedes with a witness on March 20 also confirmed that Tompkins had left with Hundshamer at roughly 1 a.m. on Dec. 26 and then both returned with the cria in hand.
Hundshamer and Tompkins were both charged with theft, receiving stolen property, agricultural vandalism, cruelty to animals, agricultural trespass and conspiracy to commit agricultural trespass.
Hundshamer was granted nominal bail after pleading not guilty to all charges. Tompkins' case was continued until Monday, May 13.
In a final ultimate irony, it was revealed that Hundshamer works at a farm where there are numerous rescued animals.
Camarote said that at first, he only wanted the cria returned safely. Now, however, he feels it's a matter of justice.
He added that he maintains a close relationship with his alpacas, and that he routinely opens up his farm to people who wish to visit the animals. He also showcases the alpacas at farm shows and often takes them on visits to schools with special needs students.
Camarote said he could not believe the audacity behind putting the images on Facebook for everyone to see.
A screenshot image of the page shows the baby alpaca in the back of a pickup truck with someone that closely resembles Hundshamer: a series of comments under the photograph range from support to disbelief to an offer to get high with Hundshamer and the cria.
The photos have since been removed from Facebook, but Camarote still has print out copies of the screenshots and the comments posted on both the photo thread and on Hundshamer's homepage.
"OMG you actually did it," one comment read.
"OMG you thought I was kidding, well you thought wrong," was the response, allegedly by Hundshamer.
"Ermahgard cutest bastard ever," read another comment.
"hes (sic) at my barn and you cant (sic) have him," was another comment in the thread that appeared to be posted by Hundshamer.
"I've been doing this just over 10 years. I love these animals," Camarote said. "It's just so stupid. I let anybody who wants to come and pet them. It makes no sense."