Last Saturday, two men and a woman walked out of the San Antonio Aquarium in Texas, pushing a 16-inch long horn shark in a stroller. The trio had swiped the shark, whose name is Miss Helen, from a tide pool exhibit where visitors are able to touch marine creatures held in open tanks.
Fortunately, after a whirlwind weekend and a speedy police pursuit, Miss Helen is now safely back at the aquarium, as Bill Chappell of NPR reports. The heist had been deliberately, if perhaps not meticulously, planned. According to a statement by the San Antonio Aquarium, one of the perpetrators infiltrated the facility around a month before the theft occurred, posing as an employee of the aquarium’s salt supplier. The man claimed that the supplier had sent out bad batches of salt, and it was therefore necessary for him to test the waters in all of the aquarium’s exhibits.
“We believe that the root of his plan was to get a behind the scenes look so he could figure out what to steal and the best way to do it,” the statement reads.
On the day of the theft, the three suspects walked through the aquarium in plain view of other visitors—and the building’s security cameras. Surveillance footage shows one of the men scooping Miss Helen out of the tank and rushing out of frame, followed by the other man. The woman paces near a stroller. The men return, holding something that appears to be covered with a wet towel, which they place in the stroller’s undercarriage. We now know that the two male suspects entered a side room and put Miss Helen into a bucket of water before the trio hurried off.
One staff member, alerted to suspicious behavior near the touch tank, followed the thieves into the parking lot, but was not permitted to search their vehicle. Police were called, and as Daniel Victor of the New York Times reports, they tracked the getaway vehicle to a home belonging to one of the suspects. Inside was a pool filled with marine animals—including Miss Helen.
Joseph Salvaggio, chief of the Leon Valley Police Department, told Mariah Medinah of KSAT12 said that the pool looked “like almost a mockup [of the aquarium].” The resident of the home “very much knew what he was doing,” Salvaggio noted. “[He] kept that animal alive and was able to continue to see that animal thrive, which was pretty shocking to all of us.”
One of the suspects has been identified as 38-year-old Anthony Shannon, who told CBS San Antonio affiliate KENS5 that he decided to steal the shark after a “friend” told him animals at the aquarium were dying frequently.
"It was wrong to just take him like that,” Shannon said. “But, at that point in time, it was just something that I had to do."
"I'm an activist, not a criminal,” he added.
Shannon has been charged with theft of property. Charges for the other two suspects are pending.
The aquarium acknowledged in a statement that Shannon may have seen deceased animals during his undercover tour of the facility, but said that animal deaths are an “unfortunate part of being in this business.”
Miss Helen appears to be faring well in the wake of her ordeal. “She’s very healthy,” said Jamie Shank, the aquarium's assistant husbandry director, to News 4 San Antonio. “I’m glad [the thieves] did take care of her … She’s going to have a nice, healthy life it seems.”