A bag of dead animals was found at Eagle Rock Reservation in early May, and Montclair’s animal control officer suggested in recent Facebook comments they might have been killed during a ritual.

An Essex County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson confirmed that officers responded to the reservation on May 8 at 1:30 p.m. on reports of dead animals, and found one bag of chickens. The spokesperson said the report did not list the manner of death.

Montclair Animal Control Officer Michele Shiber, commenting on a post in the Secret Montclair Facebook group about the discovery, said she’d been sent a video that appeared to also show a goat among the animal remains. The Sheriff's Office spokesperson, however, said the report she had available only listed the bag of chickens.

Since Eagle Rock is a county park, it would not be Montclair Animal Control or the Montclair Police Department that responds to reports at the reservation. Instead, reports would be referred to the Sheriff’s Office, which would respond to any incidents there, Essex County Public Information Director Anthony Puglisi said.

Shiber said in the Facebook comments that although she had not visited the scene, she didn’t believe it was a case of “anyone needlessly torturing animals.” But she agreed with some other commenters “it ‘could’ have been part of a religious ritual, perhaps Santeria.” She has not yet responded to messages sent on June 2 by Montclair Local.

In her post however, she pointed to the Constitution's protections for freedom of religion, and U.S. Supreme Court rulings specifically protecting animal sacrifice practices.

In Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, the Supreme Court struck down a Florida community’s ordinances prohibiting animal sacrifices, saying they were too targeted at one religious group’s practice, as described by the Free Speech Center’s First Amendment Encyclopedia. However, in concurring opinions, justices left open the possibility broader anti-cruelty laws that weren’t targeted specifically at one religion — but still interfered with its practices — might stand. 

“For the record, I am neither condoning nor condemning anyone's religious rights, I am merely stating my opinion why these animals showed up decapitated,” Shiber wrote. She also told posters: “Disagreeing with the ritual does not make it illegal, as many documented cases have proven.”

She did question whether the religious ritual act would be permitted within the confines of a county park under its rules.

“Unless someone photographed or videotaped the incident that would allow the participants to be ID'd, I don't believe there is much that county officials can do after the fact, and especially after the remains have been removed,” she wrote.

The Sheriff's Office spokesperson’s description of the report didn’t address whether the animals had been killed on the property or elsewhere and dumped at the reservation, but said an online commenter’s description that they were found just off the parking lot near the start of a trail appeared to be correct.

Puglisi said that when dead animals are found in the reservation that “unfortunately, there usually is not enough evidence to identify who was involved.” 

A Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said they could not comment on how often decapitated animals are found at the reservation.

The Eagle Rock Reservation is largely located in West Orange, but includes sections in Verona and Montclair.

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