Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission officer Dan Stermen and Lt. Wayne Maahs discuss the circumstances surrounding the arrest of seven suspects in the killing of protected birds near Goodland. Watch »
NAPLES — Four men who were arrested this past week after authorities say they wantonly shot at and killed 21 protected wading birds near Goodland may have accelerated their lives right out of a career with the U.S. Navy.
Navy officials confirmed Friday that four of the seven people accused of shooting the protected birds on Tuesday night recently graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and currently are enrolled at the Naval Aviation Schools Command in Pensacola in northern Florida.
“The Navy absolutely takes seriously and does not condone any type of activity such as this,” said Lt. Doug Johnson, the public affairs officer in Pensacola.
The four were identified as Joseph William Gursky, 22, of New York; Mark Lewis McClure, 23, of Osprey, near Sarasota; Cullen Mark Shaughnessy, 22, of Marco Island; and Alexander Bruce Wilhelm, 24, of Maryland.
The Navy is conducting an internal investigation into their involvement in the bird shootings, Johnson said.
He declined to discuss possible reprimands.
“At this point I’m not going to comment on that until the investigation is complete and all of the facts come out,” Johnson said.
Records indicate that all four were commissioned on May 23, 2008.
Gursky graduated from Annapolis in September 2008, followed by McClure in October, and Shaughnessy and Wilhelm in November.
Both Gursky and McClure have received the National Defense Service Medal, according to Navy records.
“They’re all in their initial stages of aviation training here at Schools Command,” Johnson said.
On Tuesday night, the four Navy officers along with three others, identified as Stephanie Marie Meads, 23, of East Naples; Keith G. Lisa, 31, of New Jersey; and Zachary James Mato, 22, also of Marco Island, were arrested.
They were arrested after an officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission heard gunfire coming from a private rookery between U.S. 41 East and Goodland off County Road 92.
After calling for backup, the officers watched as protected birds were shot out of the sky. About two hours later, four members of the group walked out of the rookery while three others returned in a boat loaded with rifles, shotguns and pistols.
Johnson wouldn’t say if any of the weapons were issued by the Navy.
The three people on the boat were charged with felony armed trespassing, while the others were charged with misdemeanor trespassing.
When officers went to the area where the shooting occurred, they found 21 dead wading birds, including ibises, herons and egrets. All the birds are protected federally, and some are protected in Florida as “species of special concern.”
Fish and Wildlife officials said this past week that they believe the group waited for the birds to return to roost, and then shot them “for the fun of it.”
All seven members of the shooting party face possible state and federal charges, including killing a species of special concern, a third-degree felony in Florida.
Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Gabriella Ferraro said her agency is investigating the case, and is meeting with representatives from the State Attorney’s Office regarding additional charges.
“It’s being pursued to the fullest extent,” Ferraro said of the case.
Several attempts to reach Collier residents Mato and Meads were unsuccessful.
When reached on his cell phone Thursday night, Shaughnessy declined comment and hung up.