Southeast Salem family reeling after camera captures teens killing cat with gunfire

Editor’s note: This article contains a description of animal abuse including the death of an animal.

Jesse Steele, 14, was devastated when he got news that his cat Vortex was shot dead by a group of teenagers on the sidewalk in front of his mother’s house near Lee Park. 

Footage from the family’s security camera shows the killing of the pregnant cat at about 2:30 a.m. on Friday, May 10. The footage, reviewed by Salem Reporter, showed one of the five boys wielding what appears to be a rifle.

Vortex the cat is shown approaching the boys, and later, the teen with the gun takes aim and fires. Vortex struggles for some time before the teen kills the cat with a second shot. 

Steele’s mother, Delyne Steele, said she is not aware of anything like this happening in her neighborhood before, and has never seen teenagers walking around with guns. She has lived there for five years, she said, and is close with her neighbors, and said she can’t imagine why anybody would want to shoot Vortex. 

Salem Police Department officials confirmed they got the call about a cat being killed in the southeast Salem neighborhood. Police are investigating but no arrests have been made, spokeswoman Angela Hedrick said.

Steele said she still breaks down when she sees images of Vortex’s death. The video showed the teens picking up the cat’s body and taking it away. The body was later found in a neighbor’s yard, Steele said. 

“When they picked her up, her blood stain was so prominent you could see it in the cameras. And you could see where her tail was and everything,” Steele said. “I’m glad they didn’t throw her in the trash can.”

Steele said when she made contact with law enforcement, they instructed her to have the cat autopsied and cremated, which cost more than $500. Steele said she has had little contact with police since, and is concerned the incident is no longer a priority. 

At this point, she said knowing the group of teenagers are still armed and haven’t been caught yet makes her a little nervous. Jesse, however, said he is not threatened. 

“My mom is worried about my safety, but when it comes to me being able to defend myself, unless they shoot me like they did my cat, I’m not scared at all,” Jesse said. 

Jesse said he knows one of the teenage boys who appears in the video, and that the boy lives in the neighborhood. Prior to the shooting, the boy warned Jesse that his other cat, Turbo, would be targeted.   

“We were standing by my front porch staircase when he said that to me, and I instantly yanked Turbo up by his scruff and I threw him inside the door, in a split second,” Jesse said. “Because I wasn’t about to have him outside a second longer.” 

Maliciously killing an animal is considered aggravated first-degree animal abuse under Oregon Law, a class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $125,000. An adjudication in juvenile court can result in the same commitment period, the youth equivalent of a sentence.

Marion County Juvenile Director Troy Gregg said it’s rare for an animal abuse case to come across his desk.

But after over 30 years of working in the juvenile system, he’s found that animal abuse such as torture or butchering is often a precursor to sexual abuse of people, in addition to other forms of violence.

“Some people would disagree with the statement that animals are a step down from human beings,” Gregg said. “But it is just that near pathway to, if you’re willing to hurt one living thing, then are you capable and willing to hurt something more?”

If a child is willing to take a step in that direction, “then how far of a leap is it for you to take it into the next level?” he said.

If a person tortures or sexually abuses an animal, Gregg said that’s also historically been a red flag that they may have been victims themselves of sexual or otherwise violent abuse.

Juvenile authorities often don’t become aware of animal abuse until later on, after the child has harmed another person. Their earlier abuse of animals may be revealed through a questionnaire, a polygraph test or parents disclosing that the child hurt a family pet when they were younger. 

Vortex’s killing was caught on camera. But Gregg said animal killings often occur in secluded areas, not in front of driveways or on neighborhood streets.

Juveniles who are adjudicated for sexual abuse or other violence often undergo psychological evaluations that help determine what level of care they need to prevent them from doing more harm.

Jesse is now raising Vortex’s kitten, named Bean because of the kitten’s fur color which resembles bean dip.  

“It is more about just getting them off the street, which is what I want, so that they don’t hurt any more animals,” Jesse said of the perpetrators. “I was really lucky to be left with a kitten, because most people when they lose their animal it is completely gone.” 

The family set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for Vortex’s autopsy and cremation, and to garner support from the public to identify the teens. 

Ardeshir Tabrizian contributed reporting.

Contact reporter Joe Siess: [email protected] or 503-335-7790. Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Joe Siess is a reporter for Salem Reporter. Joe joined Salem Reporter in 2024 and primarily covers city and county government but loves surprises. Joe previously reported for the Redmond Spokesman, the Bulletin in Bend, Klamath Falls Herald and News and the Malheur Enterprise. He was born in Independence, MO, where the Oregon Trail officially starts, and grew up in the Kansas City area.