A Jersey City couple is under investigation after authorities found nearly two dozen live animals, a pile of dead animals and a skull at their home Thursday, authorities and the owner of the home said.
It is believed that the animals — seven goats, 10 pigeons, a duck, a rooster and a box turtle were removed — were being sacrificed in rituals associated with the Afro-Caribbean religion of Santeria.
A member of the state Regional Medical Examiner’s Office removed the skull for further evaluation. Details about the skull were not immediately available.
Jersey City police responded to 141 Van Horne St. at approximately 1 p.m. after a neighbor complained of noise, odor and the number of animals roaming the back yard. Liberty Humane Society, city health inspectors and a member of the state regional Medical Examiner’s Officer responded and spent much of the day at the home.
The tenants, one of whom was seen speaking about the Santeria religion in a video posted online, were questioned by police, but as of Thursday evening, were not issued with any violations. An official at the scene said the tenants could be charged with jail time and a $2,000 fine for each violation.
The owner of the property, who lives with her family on the same block, said a skull was removed from the home, although she was not told by authorities if it is a human skull, or if it was possibly used for religious ceremonies.
Authorities also found a number of dead animals in the small back yard. H. James Boor, of the Division of Environmental Health for Jersey City, said in an interview with NBC New York said they found “about four or five dead chicken carcasses, their throats slashed and they were left in a pile.”
Sacrificing animals is a part of the Santeria religion, but oftentimes those animals are eaten as part of the ceremony.
The tenants have lived there since February, and have stopped paying the rent, said Alyza Brevard-Rodriguez, who is in the U.S. Navy and had just returned home last week from a tour of duty in the Middle East.
Brevard-Rodriguez said she was unaware of the menagerie because there is a high wooden fence surrounding the yard, but thought she heard the braying of a barnyard animal Thursday morning. A short time later, while walking with her wife and daughter past 141 Van Horne, she encountered a Liberty Humane employee show said they had been called because of the animals.
“From my house you can’t see into that yard. A neighbor could see into the yard and called the police,” Brevard-Rodriguez said.
The homeowner said she and her wife had worked so hard to lay sod and fix the back yard, only to find it in shambles Thursday.
In a post on social media, Liberty Humane Society, which performs animal control for the city, asked for donations “to help with rescue and temporary housing” for the animals rescued from the home. Jersey City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said the city working with Liberty Humane Society to ensure the safety of the animals.