BROOKSVILLE — Samm Ekdahl knew the stray cat she called Oscar would one day be comfortable enough to curl up and spend the night in her room.
For months, Samm and her father, Jon, used lunch meat to lure the cat with Siamese markings to the back door of their apartment in the Hibiscus Springs complex south of Brooksville. As more time passed, Oscar became less skittish. He would even come inside the apartment for short periods of time, roll over and let the Ekdhals scratch his belly.
"He'd look up at us like, 'Thank you so much,' " said Samm, a 17-year-old senior at Central High School.
This week, the bonding process between Oscar and the Ekdhals was cut short by a late-night act of violence.
Samm awoke about 2 a.m. Tuesday to a knock on the apartment door. She came out of her bedroom to find two Hernando sheriff's deputies, her dad and Oscar. The cat seemed fine.
Then Jon Ekdahl lifted Oscar's leg to reveal a roughly 2-inch gash.
"My heart just stopped, and I just started crying," Samm said.
The Sheriff's Office would release the basics of the case of animal cruelty later that day. On Wednesday, the Ekdahls were still wondering.
"I just can't understand how anybody could do that," Samm said.
About 1:45 a.m. Tuesday, Jon Ekdahl heard the meows of a cat in distress. He walked to the back yard, where he saw at least four males surrounding Oscar. One of them made a punching or stabbing motion. Ekdahl yelled, and the suspects ran away. Ekdahl brought Oscar inside and called the Sheriff's Office. An Animal Services officer came, too. Oscar bolted and hid under a nearby shed.
That encouraged Samm, who figured if he could run away like that, maybe he would be okay.
Oscar was taken to a local animal hospital. His wound was stitched, but he was having trouble breathing, Jon Ekdahl said. In addition to the stab wound, Oscar had suffered a broken rib, a fractured vertebra and internal bleeding, the Ekdahls said. His small intestine was putting pressure on his esophagus. Hospital staffers tried to insert a tube to help him breath, but he suffocated and died.
Animal cruelty charges can be a misdemeanor or a felony under Florida law. The severity of Oscar's injuries will bring felony charges, if suspects are located and charged, said Denise Moloney, spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office.
So far, investigators have no leads. Samm Ekdahl said there aren't many teens living in the complex, which was called Suncoast Villa Apartments until earlier this month. She suspects teens who live in a nearby neighborhood and who knew they could gain access to the complex from the Suncoast Trail.
She is trying to convince her dad, a bodyguard and former Navy Seabee who served in Iraq, to have Oscar cremated and place the vessel on an entertainment center beside two urns that hold the remains of two of their other cats, Snowie and Escher.
Samm is hopeful investigators will make arrests soon.
"A good punishment would be imprisonment," she said. "No animal deserves to have this happen to them."
Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.