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Reporter Pamela Gould and Emma are a registered pet therapy team. Email

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UPDATE: Reward increased for info on shooting of emu at Rikki’s Refuge

UPDATE: The reward has been raised to $5,000 for the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the death of Mary the emu, Rikki’s Refuge Director Kerry Hilliard tells me.

The entire amount has been offered by private individuals touched by the story of the emu’s death.

Anyone with information may contact Rikki’s Refuge by calling 540/854-0870, ext. 1, sending emails to, or mailing information to Box 1357, Orange, VA 22960.

People may also contact the Orange County Sheriff’s Office at 540/672-1200 or Orange Commonwealth’s Attorney Diana Wheeler at 540/672-4848.


Mary was a sweet but shy emu and a bit of a loner until an equally introverted goat arrived.

The two bonded and then responded favorably to the addition of a younger pair of herd-averse emus and later to a pot-bellied pig that wanted no part of life in a pigpen.

The five finicky animals had formed a family of sorts and were quite content in their enclosed space at Rikki’s Refuge in Orange County, where Mary had arrived in May 2006, said refuge founder Kerry Hilliard.

But Mary’s life would not have a storybook ending.

On Monday, someone shot the 12-year-old ostrich-like bird as it stood in its pen.

The emu was dead within minutes, said Hilliard, who serves as director of the nonprofit sanctuary for abused, abandoned and unwanted animals.

She contacted Orange County Animal Control as soon as the injury was discovered and later took Mary to the Warrenton Regional Animal Health Laboratory for a necropsy.

Dr. Jaime Weisman of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services ruled that Mary died of a bullet wound to the right thigh that broke the bone in at least three places and caused massive bleeding.

Hilliard is now offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for Mary’s death.

Orange Commonwealth’s Attorney Diana Wheeler is out of town this week but issued a statement saying she had been in contact with Hilliard via email and would get involved when she returned.

“I’m outraged and saddened by poor Mary emu’s death. I will meet with Kerry next week to explore all avenues available,” Wheeler said in the statement.

Hilliard said the 450-acre refuge property is mostly wooded, with 100 cleared acres in the center where the animals live and the staff works.

The property is a mile or more from a public road in every direction.

Hilliard said the shooting raises safety concerns for animals, staff members, volunteers and people who visit the facility to see the animals or go hiking, bird-watching, or take part in Boy Scout events.

The situation could have been even worse, she said, noting that a staff member had just walked away from Mary’s enclosed space for a few minutes when the shooting occurred.

He returned to find Mary on the ground in a pool of blood.

Hilliard said the property is clearly marked to discourage trespassing and does not allow hunting, though people continually attempt to cross the refuge’s boundaries to hunt or, ostensibly, target practice. Emus generally live 10 to 20 years in the wild, but up to 35 years in captivity, according to online sources.

Though Mary’s life was cut short, the necropsy provided additional insight into the emu’s story.

Mary, who was named for the person who helped capture the wandering emu in 2006, turned out to be male. Gender is apparently difficult to discern in such birds without an internal exam, Hilliard said. But she said Mary’s masculine identity may help explain the emu’s difficulty interacting with others of its breed.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972


Rikki’s Refuge is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the death of Mary the emu.

Anyone with information may contact Rikki’s Refuge by calling 540/854-0870, ext. 1, sending emails to, or mailing information to Box 1357, Orange, VA 22960.

People may also contact the Orange County Sheriff’s Office at 540/672-1200 or Orange Commonwealth’s Attorney Diana Wheeler at 540/672-4848.


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  • a k

    It takes a special kind of sick to do something like that. Last week two bald eagles were shot and killed in MD. Who would do this? Rikkis Refuge is a great organization. Please help support them.

  • a55887l

    That’s horrible

  • Cat Williams

    why in the world would someone do this to an animal that wouldnt hurt a fly hope they caught who ever did it.

  • Donna

    RIP in Mary. As a supporter of Rikki’s Refuge, I won’t rest until this heartless person is found and brought to justice.

  • Dorian

    <3 Fly free, Mary! <3 I hope they find who did this. Totally unfathomable.

    • joeymom

      Interestingly, Emus are flightless.

  • KF

    Heartbreaking! This person must be brought to justice!

  • Julie Johnston

    What kind of monster does this? Anyone living in the area needs to be concerned because someone like this will target anything he considers helpless: pets and people alike.

  • Lisa

    Much love to all the beautiful animals at Rikki’s and their human animal caregivers. This is one of the best refuges out there. Though we live over a thousand miles apart, I am honoured to have worked with and become friends with Vincent and Kerry.

    I am disgusted by any person who is so low and cowardly to harm a fellow animal. I pray the right thing will happen with the individual who killed Mary, and for some sort of closure to be allowed to begin for those she loved.

    Much love and peace to Mary, Vincent, Duke, Kerry and the entire Rikki’s family still with us, whether in their earthly shell or spirit from Zoe Spumoni and, mommy, Lisa

  • Angie

    I am so sorry this happened.. What sick cruel person would do this. Not many people have hearts or feeling anymore for anything. May God protect the rest of the animals there. Also may GOD bring justice.

  • Judy Guy

    This is the sign of the times and it is really scary. What makes someone want to harm an innocent animal?

  • Matt

    You know, I just want to say that this terrible tragedy has truly ruffled my feathers. Emu’s have been my favorite animal for as long as I can remember, and the loss of this poor creature has surely created a fire underneath my cheeks, that will burn until this spineless cowards ragged carcass is dragged into the halls of justice and punished for this unfathomable, senseless murder. Emu’s have been a great source of humor and joy in my life throughout the years, and the thought of some lost soul just crawling onto a wildlife refuge and harming this elegant feathered friend, is something that cannot be allowed. We can only hope, that our society of puppets, and financial slaves will do the right thing, and prevent this case from going cold. I refuse to let this Emu be forgotten, and I sincerely hope that our flightless friend, earns it’s wings in the kingdom of heaven, and finally experiences the joy of flight, in and out of the pearly gates as he pleases.


    • Jessica Johnson

      Oh baby Jesus!! Please help capture this lunatic!! Amen.

  • Wendy Gielen

    That is just disgusting!!! I’m a proud Aussie, and an emu is one of our much loved animal icons over here. They are a gorgeous gentle animal who wouldn’t hurt a flea. I will always have great childhood memories of visiting a sanctuary and feeding some emus my lunch (behind Mums back of course lol). Even as a young child, I knew they wouldn’t hurt me. I am sickened and heartbroken by this. I hope they catch the bastard responsible and hang him by his balls………

  • rufus12345

    Maybe a hunter just shot it by accident. It looks exactly like a turkey in the photo. I don’t believe anyone would do it with malice.

    • DPJ626

      Accident, my ass. The hunter would have to have been trespassing on the Refuge property.

    • a k

      Sure. A 6 and a half foot turkey. See them all the time.

    • JRCallous

      Even if they did think it was a turkey, you don’t shoot a turkey in a cage, on private property, in the middle of 450 acres of marked woods.

  • Traci Wood Reynolds

    Unbelievable! I am so sad for sweet, gentle Mary… I hope they catch the disgusting person who did this and throw the book at them!

  • i1776

    How did no one hear the shot? Something is out of place or missing from this story.

    • joeymom

      They did hear the shot. The bird was taken to a veterinary clinic. However, the leg was shattered and an artery severed. It was a fatal injury.

  • Jaime

    RIP Mary….may you now rest in peace….I hope they find the heartless person who did this to you and bring them to justice! It just makes me so sick that someone could do this!

  • Joseph_Riviera

    What kind of world do we live in where someone does this? And who in their right mind would vote down nearly every post in support of the refuge and Mary? Sick.

  • Taylor

    Give them the death penalty. Sadly I know they won’t get it. But I hope someone does the job for us.

    • JRCallous

      It’s completely screwed up that someone would go out and shoot a captive animal for apparently no good reason, but you are advocating a death sentence over killing a bird? I hope the shooter is caught and spends many years in a cell for this, but lets not lose sight of the fact that no matter how much we want to personalize it, Mary was just a bird.

      • joeymom

        The fact that Mary was a bird is actually beside the point. Someone capable of this kind of senseless violence is dangerous, and needs to be brought to justice.

        • JRCallous

          Actually, it is not beside the point (kill a human = murder, kill a bird = not murder), and I never said they shouldn’t be brought to justice. In fact, I said the exact opposite. I just think it’s insane to wish death on someone for killing poultry.

          • Sammie12

            Remove “the bird” from the story and you still have the fact that this person shot a helpless being for absolutely no reason. They aren’t wired correctly nor can we cure them. Removing them from the planet is not out of the question.

  • Lori Upmeyer

    Jerks… Emus are so awesome. What did poor Mary EVER do to the shooter :(

  • Susan Clatterbuck

    This is very sad these people takes these animals in to help families who no longer can take care them, This is fun for children to visit this saddens my heart.

  • Erik Brito

    Anyone else pay attention to the ‘dislike’ votes on many of these comments that leave absolutely no reason to be disliked. The coward may be tied to those in one way or another….

    • a k

      Most likely just a troll. I re-read my earlier post a few times to see if maybe I typed something that would sound dumb or offensive. This isn’t something I would post snarky comments about. The article doesn’t list the offenses committed, but since a staff member had just walked off, I wonder if shooting into an occupied dwelling would apply. Hopefully, the jerk will brag to his buddies and/or post about it on social media.

  • Michael Blevins

    When the waste of human flesh that killed this innocent, confined and utterly helpless animal is found they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent that our laws will allow. Then they should be put in a mental ward. There was no sportsmanship or compassion shown in this heartless display of pointless violence perpetrated strictly for the sick enjoyment of killing a living, breathing and feeling creature. I see this kind of person (and I use that term loosely) as someone who is wasting our air.

  • Nancy

    This is disgusting! I can’t believe someone would do this!

  • Action

    You people should really get out more. Find something that really matters to worry about. Life is passing you by, so it’s time you get one…