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An animal rights group and an animal shelter are both offering rewards in the case of a kitten found buried in concrete in a Arizona-Utah border town dominated by the polygamous group led by Warren Jeffs.

The animal was found May 31 near the Colorado City, Ariz., home of Isaac Wyler, a former member of the sect turned prominent critic.

A friend of Wyler's had placed a series of approximately 7-foot-high cylindrical metal supports in wet concrete as part of a construction project. When he returned to the job site the next day, he heard the cat meowing inside one of the hollow supports.

After the friend, fellow FLDS critic Andrew Chatwin, located the cat, he cut the hollow support and discovered the animal had sunk into the wet concrete up to its face.

Since concrete hardens quickly in the summer heat, "someone had to have been watching us work on this project the whole time. Someone had to have done it quickly right after I left," Chatwin said.

He called the Best Friends Animal Shelter in Kanab and the shelter staff worked to free the creature. The animal, which they named Thomas, had suffered "massive injuries" and died a few days later, according to the shelter.

"We were all deeply saddened at seeing what he went through, and knowing that someone out there clearly has suffered so much in their own life to feel justified inflicting this kind of cruelty on another living being," shelter officials said in a statement.

Best Friends is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is offering a $2,500 reward. In a release, PETA officials asked anyone with information to call the organization at 757-622-7382, extension 8037.

Wyler sees it as part of an ongoing pattern of harassment that started when he decided to stay in the community after being kicked out eight years ago, instead of doing what sect leaders expect and leaving.

"Dead cats have been found in our place for years," he said. "This is the first time they've done it with a live animal."

His horses, he said, also have been targeted. Wyler says over the years he's made complaints and filed reports with the marshal's office that covers Colorado City and adjacent border town of Hildale, Utah, but no one has ever been caught.

"How do you catch someone doing that?" Wyler said. "Unless someone comes and confesses, you're never going to know."

Chatwin calls them "hate messages."

This comes against a backdrop of continued excommunications from imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs and increasingly stifling rules for behavior, including a ban on sex — a situation called by some a "social disaster."

The Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against town leaders, and last week the Mohave County Sheriff's Office in Arizona started putting patrol officers in the town.

Acting police chief of Colorado/Hildale Helaman Barlow said the marshals are investigating the kitten's death, and asked anyone with information to call their office at 435-874-2240.

"This is an extremely sad situation," Barlow said through city attorney Blake Hamilton.

News of the incident broke this week via a video Chatwin made and posted on YouTube.

Twitter: @lwhitehurst