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The adventures of Bruce: Beloved tortoise unites community search effort

Bruce the tortoise has been found and is safely back home. (Brian Price)

If you ever see a tortoise wandering West Austin alone, check his rear end for a set of labeled phone numbers and an Apple iTag. If that’s what you see, you’ll know you’ve found Bruce, who has a penchant for adventure.


Bruce, a Sulcata tortoise, just returned to his Daveport Ranch home mid-last week from a six-day trip that had his family, Austinites Brian and Samantha Price, anxiously searching on foot. Brian searched between his 24-hour shifts as an ER doctor.

“I was panicking because there was 109-degree weather, it was ridiculous, and there was no rain,” Brian said. “I was getting super nervous so I was literally out there every single day.”

In the 15 years Bruce has lived with the Prices, he has escaped a handful of times but always finds his way back with the help of his friends and social media.

Bruce as a baby.

Bruce now weighs 70 pounds.

The Price family adopted Bruce as a baby when their youngest son started asking for a pet tortoise. In the spirit of the dad who didn’t want the family pet, Bruce largely became Brian’s responsibility (and best friend) before long.

“Brian searched for him for hours and hours every day. He worked so hard and found him and also had a really good idea of where he was going to end up,” Samantha said. “He truly understands Bruce.”

Now a solid 70 pounds, Bruce has become famous in their neighborhood for his antics—Brian said he has escaped home three times, once for 19 days straight and as far as nine miles away.

After his first disappearance, the Prices added stickers with their phone numbers to his shell, which helped him get found the second time when he stopped by someone’s lawn. Then they added the iTag, which he conveniently managed to slough off before he disappeared this month.

Each time they have taken to Nextdoor to spread the word of his disappearance, where neighbors have organized search parties, created maps of his favorite locations, given out flyers, shared tips and brought Bruce home.

This time, Bruce was found by a neighbor's child in the greenbelt while Brian was searching using mating calls that had been suggested online.

“Everybody knows Bruce in Westlake because of his escapes, everybody knows about the adventures of Bruce,” Brian said. “Whenever we go on vacation, the neighbors help take care of him.”

His adventures have inspired a book idea, which Samantha envisions as an educational chronicle of Bruce’s adventures from his perspective; a reattached tracker and an enclosure upgrade that gave him about 200 square feet of shade to roam so he hopefully won’t want to seek it elsewhere.

“I saw the community coming together and just wanting to find him, he really does bring our community together,” Samantha said.

Brian said his aversion to social media even faltered a little when he watched his online community comment, “Bruce for mayor!” upon his post announcing the tortoise was back home.

“He's a little celebrity,” Brian said.

Popular

Part Two: Kaitlin Armstrong sought and captured, charged with murder of cyclist Moriah Wilson
Austin's Kaitlin Armstrong after capture in Costa Rica.

Dateline NBC

(Editor's note: this is part two of a two part Austonia series tracking the Dateline NBC investigation of Moriah Wilson's murder. Read part one here.)

After pro gravel biker Moriah "Mo" Wilson is gunned down in South Austin on May 11, police investigators develop a "person of interest," Austin's Kaitlin Armstrong, 34, a real estate agent, yoga teacher, amateur cyclist, and longtime girlfriend of Austin cyclist Colin Strickland.

Originally from Michigan, where a childhood friend described her as "fun loving" and "smart," Armstrong finished college and traveled the world studying yoga, in places like Iceland, Bali, and Mexico. She ended up in Austin where she met Colin Strickland. The two were business partners in a vintage trailer business, along with her own venture flipping houses. "Business partners and life partners," NBC said.

According to NBC's evaluation of a police report, a friend of Wilson's, who remains anonymous, said that despite Strickland's relationship with Kaitlin Armstrong, Mo Wilson and Strickland had been seeing each other since their "fling" in Austin months before. NBC reports this friend told police that before she died, Wilson had received a number of calls from Kaitlin Armstrong warning her to stay away from Armstrong's boyfriend, Colin Strickland.

A second tipster claimed to have been present when Armstrong first learned that Wilson and Strickland had been seeing each other. The tipster said Armstrong became "enraged" and threatened to kill Moriah Wilson.

Police found an outstanding warrant for Armstrong for an unpaid botox bill, and brought her in for questioning. She was largely unresponsive to their inquiries. Then police discovered a typo in the warrant and were forced to release her.

Six days after Wilson's death, a police ballistics analysis pointed toward a 9mm weapon owned by Kaitlin Armstrong. In his police interview, Strickland had told police he had previously purchased two 9mm handguns, one for him and one for Armstrong.

Police obtained a warrant to arrest Kaitlin Armstrong for first degree murder, but when they went to arrest her, she was gone.

(Dateline NBC)


Disappearance

Austin police asked the U.S. Marshals to find her. The Marshals believed Armstrong was hiding in Austin, until 14 days after the murder when they discovered video from ABIA showing Armstrong, masked and carrying a yoga mat, about to board a plane 3 days after the murder. From Austin, Armstrong had flown to Houston and on to New York's LaGuardia, where the trail went cold.

The Marshals posted a reward, $5,000, asking the public for help. Help came with a tip that Armstrong had been seen in upstate New York a few days after arriving at LaGuardia. Investigators knew that Kaitlin's sister lived there, and went to investigate, but did not find any trace of Armstrong.

Another tip came that Kaitlin had been seen next at Newark International Airport on May 18. But, as before, there was no trail to follow.

But how could she travel without using her identification documents? And how could she survive without using her credit cards and bank account?

Back in Austin, police found her Jeep at a CarMax dealership, where she had sold it weeks before for $12,200.

Costa Rica

Meanwhile, in the small, end-of-the-road surfing town of Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, Kaitlin Armstrong had quietly arrived in town and was working for a local hostel, Don Jon's, checking in guests and teaching yoga.

Dateline NBC

(Dateline NBC)


She befriended a local man who described Santa Teresa to NBC as "a really good place to hide out....it's the land of the unwanted, and the 'wanted.'"

At night, Armstrong became a regular at the town's one bar. She called herself "Ari," but didn't say much about past.

She dyed her hair dark and cut it shorter. She traveled to the capital, San Jose, where she may have had plastic surgery to change the appearance of her nose. Armstrong was later identified by an employee of the surgical center, but if that was her, she used a different name to register for the procedure.

Armstrong told people in Santa Teresa that she had had a surfing accident and needed treatment.

Capture

Summing it all up, Austin American-Statesman reporter Ryan Autullo said she "lacked the discipline, frankly, to not get caught." She did some things to conceal herself, but she also wanted to "have fun and live it up at the beach."

Around this time, working off the yoga mat clue, U.S. investigators were contacting police in "yoga destinations" around the world and circulating Armstrong's description. An officer in Costa Rica made inquiries, and was told about a "new yogi" in Santa Teresa.

43 days after Armstrong disappeared, police walked into Don Jon's and arrested her.

In the aftermath, a customer discovered Armstrong's documents, which he photographed before turning over to police. They included her sister's passport, and Armstrong's own passport, American Express Platinum Card, and her social security card.

Armstrong was extradited to the United States, returned to Austin, indicted for murder, and placed in jail with a $3.5 million dollar bail.

She pleaded not guilty, hiring Austin criminal attorney Rick Cofer to defend her.

(Dateline NBC)


Cofer, a former prosecutor, was interviewed by NBC. He explained away every point of Armstrong's disappearance and apparent flight to a skeptical interviewer.

He identifies what he says are some weak points in the prosecution's case. Then he perhaps implies that he knows something prosecutors don't. "Kaitlin Armstrong is not guilty, Cofer said. "Evidence will come out that Kaitlin Armstrong was nowhere near the scene of Miss Wilson's murder."

A trial date was set for October 19, but a Travis County judge said in a ruling that an October trial is "highly unlikely."

Fall camping: Camp Fimfo Waco offers one-of-a-kind experiences in the heart of Texas
Camp Fimfo Waco

Camp Fimfo Waco, a brand new camping resort, is kicking off football and fall camping season in style! With top-notch amenities, premium accommodations, and 10 weekends of fall fun, there’s no better place to have a fall camping getaway, especially if you’re a Baylor football fan!

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