JOHNS ISLAND — They ambushed him like cowards, shot him and left him to die.
But Big Al lived, and if he knows who shot the arrow at him, he's not talking.
He's no rat, he's a reptile.
This island community is abuzz with the mystery of who shot the 4 1/2-foot alligator — called Big Al by some locals — at the Johns Island Park. State officials are investigating this assault on the local wildlife, which, despite talk of a gator hunting season, is most definitely a state and federal offense.
Department of Natural Resources officials say they will prosecute.
For years, Al has lived peacefully in the pond behind the ball fields. Despite the sign that says "DON'T FEED THE ALLIGATORS," Al often enjoyed potluck lunches from picnickers, his dinner bell a couple of sharp claps from someone on the bank.
Sue Wilkinson was having lunch in the park Tuesday when she found Al lying on the ground, an Easton-brand arrow stuck in his neck. She thought he was dead and ran to get her digital camera. When she came back, Al was up walking around and quickly slipped into the pond.
"It is absolute cruelty," Wilkinson said. "He's just a baby."
Anna Martin, spokeswoman for DNR, says the state first got the report of the injured gator nearly three weeks ago, but when officers investigated, they couldn't find Al. It's unclear if there have been two gators shot with arrows, but they are assuming for now that Al is the only one.
On Wednesday, before DNR trappers arrived to catch Al, and maybe figure out if doctors can patch him up, the gator was lounging in the weeds at the pond's edge. The arrow in his neck stuck above the grass line, seriously affecting his ability to hide.
He took off for a swim, ignoring the turtles paddling around him. When one of the men on the park's grounds crew clapped, Al swam toward the bank. He got within about 6 feet, looked up, realized no one had any chicken for him and turned around with one graceful flick of his tail.
"I hope they can save him," Wilkinson said. "I don't know why someone would do that."