A stunning reversal Friday evening from state wildlife officials-- after assuring us for more than a week that Pete the Moose was alive, officials now say the controversial and much-loved moose is dead.
Friday morning we were told Pete was alive by the Shumlin Administration. By late afternoon, a dramatic turn of events: the moose was dead and for some time.
"I sat with him. I'd read a book and just to be there with him," David Lawrence said.
Lawrence began caring for Pete the Moose when the moose was just 6 days old. He says Pete's mother had been attacked by dogs and left the calf behind. Over the past three years the two formed a bond and their visits continued at Pete's new home at a hunting facility in Irasburg owned by Doug Nelson. But the last time Lawrence saw his beloved friend was on Labor Day when the moose was having his hooves trimmed.
"He gave him a shot to tranquilize him, knocked him down. Cut his feet and then he gave him a reverse shot that was supposed to counteract the other shot and he'd jump right on his feet. Well it didn't happen," Lawrence said.
Lawrence says while they were waiting for the moose to wake up, he ran an errand. When he returned, Pete had vanished.
"Pete had got up and he left or he got dragged away or something. I have no idea. I never saw him again," Lawrence said.
Lawrence feared Pete may have been given an overdose of the tranquilizer drug. But he couldn't prove it.
Then Vermont Fish and Wildlife released a photo hoping to quash the rumors. But Lawrence says it wasn't Pete.
"Why would the owner let him take a picture of Davey and say it's Pete if Pete was living? C'mon I'm not stupid," Lawrence said.
Davey is one of the seven moose living in the 700-acre facility. Lawrence says he's positive it's not Pete-- his ear tag is 140. Davey is 150.
"150, 140. I know those like I know my wife," Lawrence said. "My reaction was to say OK, this is Pete... to save Davey. Because Davey is just as special as Pete, but I'd be lying," Lawrence said.
Late Friday afternoon, the state called the Nelson family. They admitted Doug Nelson administered the drug and Pete died during the tranquilization process.
"I was as surprised as anybody to find out today that Pete had died, believe me," Vt. Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Patrick Berry said.
Berry denied the state was trying to cover up Pete's death and explained Fish and Wildlife hasn't had jurisdiction over the facility for more than a year.
After our 6 p.m. news broadcast, the Nelson family called us to take full responsibility.
"The blame goes to us. We're the ones that didn't say Pete died for right wrong or indifferent," said Richard Nelson, the son of the preserve owner. "And we said we would take care of Pete and then a few weeks later, geez Pete died, when we were taking care of Pete. And so we were mortified and we said, oh we'll just sit on this one. And in hindsight the people who take care of Pete should have sat with him."
And since the Nelsons are legally responsible for Pete's well-being, the family wanted to make it clear that they hid the fact that Pete was dead from everyone, including the Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Patrick Berry.
Richard Nelson: It shouldn't be his reputation because he didn't know.
Reporter Jennifer Reading: Why not?
Nelson: Because we didn't tell him.
Reading: Why not?
Nelson: Because everyone was so concerned about Pete the Moose that we were just kind of hoping, hey let it go.
"It wasn't a mess up. We were misled," Berry said. "We were led to believe that that was Pete."
Pete's chapter may be over, but many issues remain.