Slaughtered chickens, candles and a yellow bandanna nailed to a tree made up a possible ritual scene found Friday in a Massapequa park, Nassau County police said.
Animal sacrifices are sometimes associated with Santeria, an Afro-Caribbean religious practice, but authorities say this may be a case of animal cruelty. The Nassau County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is offering a reward of $2,500 for information on the person(s) involved.
Police responding to a report from a passerby in the 423-acre Massapequa Preserve found several chickens that appeared to have been cut open, dissected and had their entrails pulled out.
One chicken, found alive but injured, was removed by Town of Oyster Bay Animal Control officials. Police had no update on its condition Saturday morning. An employee of the town animal shelter referred a request for comment to the town's public information office, where a message left Saturday morning was not immediately returned.
"I don't know if it was Santeria or just kids," said Det. Bob Sowers of the Nassau SPCA, which investigates cases of animal cruelty. "But the assumption is they were not being humanely killed."
Several slaughtered chickens were found last month in an East Meadow sump, Sowers said. In 2013, a landscaper found two headless chickens in a plastic bag in front of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Church in New Hyde Park, police said. In 2008, Suffolk police found a decapitated baby goat near a road in Islip Terrace.
Certain elements of the Massapequa scene -- the color yellow and proximity to the Massapequa Creek, which runs through the Preserve -- could indicate the sacrifices were intended as offerings for Oshun, a goddess of love and water sometimes appealed to in Santeria, said Miguel A. De La Torre, professor of Social Ethics and Latino/a Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, who has written about the religion.
"It might have to do with love or romance, to break up a marriage so you can be with a lover, or if you're single and want to get married," he said.
A religion with little formal hierarchy brought to Spanish Harlem by Cuban immigrants in the mid-20th century could well have migrated to the suburbs along with its practitioners, he said.
But the nature of the sacrifices raised questions about those who carried them out, he said. Typically, he said, when a sacrifice is made, "what you're interested in is the blood," which Santeria practitioners believe is a powerful embodiment of a universal force called Ashe. "You basically cut the vein" in a manner that is quick and painless for the animal, he said. "There is no reason to gruesomely destroy the animal."
Anyone with information on the Massapequa Preserve case can call the SPCA hotline at 516-781-2052 or CrimeStoppers at 1-800-244-TIPS.