People leaving a Lodi church Sunday received an unpleasant surprise: Three dead baby goats were left on the lawn, held up with wooden dowels featuring strange symbols and words.
Police have no suspects and don't know if the actual target was United Congregational Church, located at the corner of Hutchins and Tokay streets.
They also don't know if it was a prank or if it meant something more significant. Pastor Jack Dawson told police he had no idea why such a thing would happen, and said he was unaware of any other suspicious incidents.
Police were called to the 701 S. Hutchins St. church at 12:23 p.m. The service had started at 10 a.m. and nothing was amiss, but when churchgoers walked out the door, the gruesome sight was waiting for them.
Two of the three goats had pieces of wooden dowels fastened to their legs by wire and plastic zip ties, according to police. One goat was standing, with the dowels stuck in the ground as supports, while the other goat had fallen over.
There was no obvious cause of death, and the goats did not appear to be mutilated. They were very young, with remains of umbilical cords still attached, according to a police report by Officer John Nickel.
Someone had written on the dowels with a purple felt pen. The words included "End of day," "Holly" - perhaps a misspelling of the word "Holy" - and "Ghost" on separate dowels. The officer didn't recognize the symbols on the wood, other than a five-pointed star.
The church office was closed Monday, and a message and e-mail were not returned.
Police hadn't heard of such things happening before in Lodi. It is not currently considered a hate crime, since there was no apparent specific target of a crime, Sgt. Bill Alexander said.
Diane Barney, Lodi's animal services supervisor, also hadn't heard of such incidents. Sometimes she is called to reports of people keeping goats in city limits, violating Lodi's municipal code regarding farm animals.
She's also been called to backyard goat killings, usually on a holiday before the goat is made into an edible dish. Barney said she explains to the residents that it's not acceptable to slaughter an animal in public.
As a precaution, the animal shelter stops adopting out black cats and dogs at least a month before Halloween, because other cities have reported rituals involving black animals. But Barney hasn't seen that happen in Lodi, and the goat incident is also new ground.
"I have just not ever heard of anything like this, thank goodness," she said.