On a field behind an Ellicott City elementary school Halloween night, a Satanic ritual was performed using six dead animals, most of which apparently were killed by blows to the head, Howard County police said yesterday.
Police officers combed the residential neighborhood in the 3700 block of Font Hill Drive yesterday asking residents if their cats were missing and possibly killed by those who were engaged in Satanic worship near Centennial Lane Elementary School.
At least two of the animals appeared to be road kills, but the remaining four died from "head traumas," police said.
"It appears to be a form of Satanic worship," said Sgt. Gary L. Gardner, a Howard County police spokesman. "Satanic worship is not a crime, but the crime in this case would be cruelty to animals."
Two raccoons, two cats and a rabbit were arranged in a circle on the points of what appeared to be a painted pentagram, and a groundhog was placed in the center. Police said a note under the groundhog read: "It is Satan's power which gives us strength . . . the Anti-Christ is rising. Praise be to him."
Some of the letters in the note were written backward, a typical Satanic practice, experts on the occult said.
Friedel Warner, principal at Centennial Lane Elementary School in Ellicott City, said a parent reported finding the dead animals near a pathway 15 feet from the end of the school's playing field about 9 a.m. yesterday.
The principal said she believed that it was "a Halloween prank, but I still think it was pretty sick." Mrs. Warner said she did not tell the schoolchildren about the incident because she did not want to "send unnecessary alarm through the community."
Various law enforcement officials, who have expertise in the occult, said the incident in Ellicott City appeared to be the work of adolescents dabbling in Satanic worship.
"Killing of animals is seen in certain cult activities," said Sgt. Tim Boyle of the Maryland National Capital Park police, who lectures on occult behavior. "They have the belief you get the power of the animal that you kill.
"Most of these practitioners do not follow textbook Satanism," he added. "Usually, it is adolescents who do it, and we are very concerned because it means there is a lot deeper [mental health] problem with the people involved."
Typically, Sergeant Boyle said youths who participate in Satanic rituals are "rebelling against religion and normal societal beliefs, or they want to upset their parents, or simply don't want to follow rules of society. When they are motivated to kill an animal, it definitely is a concern."
He said killing domestic animals, such as cats, for a ritual seldom comes to the attention of law enforcement agencies in the area.
Officer Donald Thompson, a Baltimore County police officer with expertise on the occult, said he believed that the incident involved teen-agers experimenting with Satanic worship.
"If it was a true Satanic cult, we would not find any evidence. They cover things up," Officer Thompson said.
Earlier this year, police reported that what appeared to be a Satanic ritual took place in an abandoned house in Ellicott City, where a noose was found along with a painted pentagram and various slogans about Satanism.