Hilton Head, SC (FOX Carolina) - Officers with the SC Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday, after a thorough investigation of an incident involving a possum injured in the Hilton Head area last week, their department has been unable to confirm allegations the animal was attacked or beaten with golf clubs.
DNR reports the possum was found approximately 300 feet from a golf course fairway and some nearby homes.
DNR officials said they conducted multiple interviews with individuals involved with the rescue of the injured possum.
In a statement provided to SCDNR, the Good Samaritan who stopped to help the animal did no advise seeing golfers or any other people in the area and no other people stopped or were present before volunteers with Wildlife Rehab arrived to pick up the animal.
SCDNR says it takes allegations of abuse of any wildlife very seriously and will continue the investigation into this incident if additional information or evidence becomes available.
Wildlife Rehab of Greenville posted a response on Facebook after SCDNR's news release Wednesday. The group apologized for any confusion and said they were operating on information from a trusted rehabber. The group maintains the belief that humans were behind Scarlett's injuries.
The post read:
"Wildlife Rehab of Greenville (WRG) would like to take this opportunity to address several issues regarding the story of Scarlett the opossum. As you may have seen, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has released a statement regarding her case which calls into question WRG’s version of events.
WRG received a hotline call from the public on Wednesday January 8th regarding an opossum with injuries on a golf course near a pond in Hilton Head, South Carolina. One of our experienced rehabbers responded to this call. This rehabber has been with us for a few years and even recently was elected to serve on the Board of Directors. When she contacted our director, Wendy Watson, she made several statements regarding witnesses to the incident, location of the attack and public aid responders. As this rehabber has been with us for some time, we had no reason not to believe her statements.
As we’ve since learned, nearly all of it was misleading at best and untruthful at worst. WRG has photographic evidence of every statement made by the rehabber to us and to the public. Our evidence includes statements from the rehabber about witnesses on the scene, public aid from local departments and location. Once again, as she had been with us for some time, she was a trusted member of the organization and we had no reason to question her story.
The rehabber relayed to us that she contacted a local veterinarian that agreed to come out to her home after hours, but then later cancelled. We do know that the rehabber did treat Scarlett at home, using our intake procedure that includes wound care and pain medications. Scarlett was even brought to our January Board of Directors meeting where we could all see her and her wounds. These wounds were witnessed by several Board members and included a missing (destroyed) eye, lacerations and a very clear mark on the underside of her neck that very closely resembles a golf club iron. We have photographic evidence of these wounds. Our director, Wendy Watson, personally witnessed Scarlett receive care at her home, including feeding, wound care and cleaning. Several board members also heard statements from the rehabber repeating the above claims.
After that, things begin to fall apart. The rehabber claims that she began receiving death threats. WRG was berated for everything from raising funds for Scarlett’s care to allegedly protecting the golf course. WRG repeatedly refused to release any information on the golf course as we had no evidence to suggest it was a member of the golf course or if it was even a member of the public or a tourist. We made repeated pleas to the public to come forward with any information regarding the attack as we had been told there were eyewitnesses.
On Monday, January 13, 2020, DNR visited the rehabber’s home to see Scarlett and then went to the alleged location of the attack. The rehabber told us that the interview went well and then we never heard back from DNR regarding anything further. There were individuals on Facebook claiming to have spoken to DNR, stating that DNR was telling them there was no evidence to back up our claims made on social media. We have evidence of the claims made by these individuals. Statements were also made that the rehabber requested WRG to remove the stories about Scarlett, which is again, unfortunately, untrue. She never asked us to do that. In fact, after the DNR visit on Monday, we stopped hearing from the rehabber at all. Three WRG Board members, including the director, tried repeatedly to get in contact with her, to no avail. We called, messaged and texted and received no reply. Our next communication from the rehabber was from her informing us that she was leaving WRG.
WRG did not dispute that she could leave the organization but as Scarlett’s care and meds so far had been supplied by WRG and since the call came into WRG and was handled by a WRG rehabber at the time, we requested Scarlett be immediately turned over to the care of another rehabber and board member. The last thing WRG heard about Scarlett’s location was that she was still with the rehabber who took her in and is no longer returning our attempts to communicate.
WRG confirmed with a veterinary office in Hilton Head that they in fact treated Scarlett on Tuesday January 14, 2020. The rehabber brought her into their office. Another person, unaffiliated with WRG, paid Scarlett’s bill. WRG does not why this person was involved with Scarlett’s care or bill. WRG informed the vet’s office that we were responsible for Scarlett. WRG has been raising funds for Scarlett for several days and that money was to go to Scarlett’s care. The office agreed with us and we covered Scarlett’s bill for that visit. We have proof of payment for that bill.
Having not heard previously from DNR, Wendy Watson spoke to them today, Wednesday, January 15, 2020, after their public statement regarding the case. As per the statement by DNR, they cannot prove or disprove what caused her injuries. WRG stands by our claim that Scarlett was attacked by a human. We do not believe she was hit by a car or golf cart as there was no evidence of road rash, as is so often seen in hit by car injuries. She also does not exhibit crush injuries related to a dog attack or the puncture wounds or infections you would expect from a cat attack. We do have photographs of her injuries that lead us to believe our original statements.
WRG has been unable to contact the rehabber who took in Scarlett for some time now. As far as we know, Scarlett is still in the care of the original rehabber who took her in. WRG has made repeated demands for her return to our care since we’ve been raising funds for her.
In closing, WRG would like at this time, to apologize for any confusion. Wildlife Rehab of Greenville takes full responsibility for not having all the facts at the outset. We were simply going off the word of a trusted friend and rehabber. WRG did not expect her story to go viral, of course. The story we were told was as upsetting to us as it was to the rest of the world who heard her story. We were misled along with everyone else.
WRG would also like to take this time to sincerely thank South Carolina Department of Natural Resources for investigating this matter. They have been professional throughout and have treated us and Scarlett with dignity and respect. We look forward to continuing our working relationship with DNR.
In standing by our claim that Scarlett was attacked by humans, we would like to reiterate that this behavior should NOT reflect poorly on the people of Hilton Head Island, the golf community in that area or any rehabbers of any organization. One person led to all this confusion. We trusted the wrong source and we apologize for that.
WRG has reason to believe that there are eyewitnesses out there who have yet to come forward. WRG and SC DNR encourage anyone with any information on this case to please come forward. Whoever did this to Scarlett needs to be brought to justice and we simply can’t do that without you.
We have learned several lessons from this. We will be much more careful in the future. We apologize to the public. If anyone feels they were misled and would like any donations they made to be refunded, we are more than happy to do so. We will continue to work towards the return of Scarlett to our care. We will continue our work, as we have for 26 years, of rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing the thousands of animals that come into our care every year. We will continue the work of educating the public about our wonderful local wildlife, like Scarlett, and the obvious benefits of having these animals in our communities.
Thank you to our followers, our members and our rehabbers. Thank you to those who have made donations in Scarlett’s name. One or more people attacked her, but thousands have stepped up to help her and that means a lot. There is always more good in the world than evil. Again, we apologize for any misleading information we were given and passed on without the facts completely in hand. We have learned from this incident and will move forward better suited to handling these kinds of things in the future."