JOHNSONVILLE, SC (WBTW) - People in Johnsonville say black bears are rare in the area except for one, they call "Bennie the Bear". Community members say Bennie has been visiting the city for nearly a decade.
Lieutenant Benjy Byers with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) says the bear was wounded sometime after first responders lured the black bear back into the woods. Earlier this week after being spotted walking through the city.
"It's sad because the bear did not deserve what happened to him. That bear has been around here for a while he wasn't hurting a soul," said Sheila Miles with tears in her eyes.
David Lucas with SCDNR confirms the person who shot the bear has been identified but no charges have been filed or names released.
Animal lover and former police officer Kay Phillips says she gets emotional every time she talks about Bennie.
"People are like well it's only a bear," said Phillips. "It's one of God's creatures who are you to take the life of one of God's creatures?"
SCDNR deputies are investigating but say if the bear was aggressive and the person acted in self-defense. The shooting could be justified.
Deputies are not sure if the bear was aggressive because only the person of interest got the closest to it.
Longtime hunter Eddie McCants says black bears are generally not aggressive, especially not Bennie.
"I can't say on TV what this is… but trust me… it's unbelievable," explained McCants. "I want this to go before a jury and let them decide."
The group says they want more people to come forward and demand answers to hold the shooter accountable.
"It was unjust, it was uncalled for, there was no reason for it to happen. It never should have happened," said Philips.
Former Johnsonville City Council member Brad Richardson wrote an obituary for ‘Bennie the bear'.
Bennie the Bear Obituary
Bennie the Bear
Bennie the Bear first waddled down Marion Street and into the hearts of Johnsonville, SC residents in the fall of 2009. He was named in honor of the gentleman who he first paid the unexpected visit to., Mr. Bennie. He could be seen wandering down the railroad tracks batting at bumblebees and lumbering from house to house shyly greeting his neighbors. He was even known to gleefully eat a Happy Meal offered to him by his friends. Eventually he even gained semi celebrity status when he got his own Face Book page and had nearly 1000 followers. One day Bennie wandered back into the woods, and stayed there with his bear family for many years. Johnsonville understood Bennie's need to return to the wild, and although they missed him, they thought and spoke of him often.
In October 2017 Bennie decided to head back to Johnsonville to visit his old buddies but some of it's people had changed. Not everyone was excited to see him. Amidst protests of him being as friendly as Baloo the Bear some people refused to take heed. It appeared that all of the Bare Necessities Bennie had taught his Johnsonville family just eight years ago had been totally lost on some.
On Monday , October 23, 2017 Bennie was gunned down by one selfish individual with the intention to boast himself my making a trophy out of our friend, Bennie. Bennie wondered back into the woods hurt, shot, bleeding, and more scared than ever. His almost lifeless body laid on the ground until day break. As the sun came up on Tuesday morning the lethargic bear was found laying wounded and hurt. The Department of Natural Resources euthanized Bennie the Bear and his body was taken away mysteriously and his life ended in the same little town he visited and wondered about. Bennie could have been tranqualized and moved or left alone to return to his woodland family but he nor his Johnsonville family were given that option. Bennie was indeed a wild animal but had proved himself friendly and simply watched his human friends in amazement, never bothering a sole. His life ended sadly and unnecessary.
It is a sad travesity in a town that has suffered so much grief in the last few months should have to suffer the unnecessary loss of our friend, Bennie the Bear. As a Christian, I implore the people of Johnsonville to come together in the wake of such a senseless killing. May we all remember back to the fall of 2009 fondly and recall those Bare Necessities we learned from Bennie the Bear.
To memorialize Bennie the Bear we are asking that donations be made to PETA, 501 Front Street, Norfolk, VA 23510.
"Bennie the bear just brought a sense of enjoyment to the town or it did for me. I know it did for my friends, "said Richardson. "Apart of our community died with Bennie."
Richardson says he wrote the obituary to call others to action and honor Bennie.
"Bennie the bear was a part of our community or he was to me. It's almost like the community that he loved so much is the community in which he took his last breath," concludes Richardson.
SCDNR says the bear's body was buried. The burial site is not open to the public.
If the person is convicted of illegally shooting of black bear, the SCDNR regulations guide says the fine is up to $2,500 or prison for up to 2 years or both also suspended hunting and fishing license for 3 years.
SCDNR says the investigation is ongoing.
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