J.J. Hart kept four chickens at his DeBary, Fla., home, which he referred to as his "ducks" as part of his therapy, helping him to break through his autism. Now his family must break the devastating news to him that his beloved pets were brutally killed.
A legal battle started last week when code enforcement officials told the Hart family the chickens had to go, granting them a two-week period in which to appeal a potential $100-a-day fine. But as the family decided what to do, the animal killers took matters into their own hands.
The grim discovery was made by J.J.'s father, Joseph, who immediately called police upon seeing the two hens and two young chickens dead in their coop Saturday morning.
The chickens had played a major role in young J.J's development, the family told CBS affiliate WKMG, helping to improve both his vocabulary and social skills.
"It was kind of a breakthrough, like he actually reacts to the chickens and makes noises we couldn't get him to make ourselves," Joseph Hart told the station.
Now the family fears how J.J. will respond to the news of their death.
"He's actually socializing and babbling. I don't know how he's going to react to this. I don't know if he is even going to able to understand," his mother said.
As police investigated, she struggled to keep the youngster inside as he asked repeatedly to see his pets.
There was no sign of a forced entry, police told the Daytona Beach News-Journal, but the family observed two bricks and a piece of wood blocking the entrance to the coop.
The Harts have never had any trouble with neighbors, they said, nor had they been threatened in the past.