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By Dominick DiRienzo
Saturday, December 8, 2001

Blitzen's overnight flight of freedom ended tragically Friday.

The reindeer that had dashed away from a holiday display in Franklin Park was shot and killed by a hunter who mistook it for a whitetail deer.

Matt Hough, law enforcement supervisor for the southwest regional office of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said Blitzen - named after one of the reindeer said to pull Santa's sleigh - was shot in a thicket of brush about a half-mile from the garden center.

Hough would not identify the hunter, but said no charges are pending.

"This is pretty rare," he said. "But it does happen."

Hough said he had not seen the animal but that it weighed about 125 pounds and could "easily be mistaken for a whitetail." Reindeer average 34 to 55 inches at the shoulder and have a brown coat similar to a whitetail deer.

Jennifer Smith, who co-owns Tee Pees Garden Center where Blitzen was displayed, initially thought Blitzen had been recovered unhurt, but a game commission official later broke the bad news.

"We're all absolutely heartbroken. We have grown so attached to these animals. We have had them for the last few years and taken care of them," Smith said. "I don't want little kids to get upset - hearing something like this."

Two other reindeer, Donner and Jingles, and a llama, Abraham, also were part of the display.

Blitzen escaped at 5:30 p.m. Thursday when a worker entered the pen to feed the animals. Donner also escaped, but several workers and some passers-by were able to corral Donner.

Smith said she did not know if Tee Pees would continue the holiday display.

"We are just nervous now that (the animals) know they can get out. We don't want it to happen again."

The regular deer-hunting season ends today.

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Copyright 2005 Tribune-Review Publishing Company

Dominick DiRienzo can be reached at [email protected]or (724) 779-7124.

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