PASADENA, Md. (WJZ) –It wasn’t until the bald eagle rescued in Maryland died that experts figured out what killed it.

Alex DeMetrick reports what was first thought to be an illness turned out to be a fatal gunshot wound.

A month ago, Maryland Yacht Club employee Ernie Jenkins heard frantic splashing near a floating dock.

“I turned around and looked and there he was,” Jenkins said. “The eagle in the water with his wings stretched out. I couldn’t let him drown. I gotta get him out.”

Which is exactly what Jenkins did.

The bald eagle acted sick and was rushed to Delaware for treatment. It died a few days later and x-rays showed why.

Two lead pellets from bird shot were lodged into the eagle’s lungs.

“Somebody done it on purpose,” Jenkins said. “Come on, that’s wrong. That’s so wrong.”

Candace Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Natural Resources police, said what ultimately caused the bird’s demise.

“It has caused fluid to build up around the heart and lungs,” Thompson said. “That with the high rate of lead poisoning really doomed that bird.”

Now those x-rays are part of the investigation file compiled by Natural Resources police, who believe the eagle was shot at close range around Sept. 21 near Rock Creek in Anne Arundel County.

Though no longer on the endangered species list, killing a bald eagle is still a crime.

“We need to find out who done this and make them punished for it,” Jenkins said.

Right now, natural resources police do not have a lot of leads.

“We’re hoping someone thinking back will think, gee, I heard something, I saw something or we’re hoping someone was dumb enough to brag about it,” Thompson said.

“They’re such a beautiful animal, you know. This was wrong for someone to do that,” Jenkins said, “it burns me up.”

Killing a bald eagle brings a $5,000 fine and up to a year in prison. Natural Resources police are asking anyone with information to call their investigators. They can be reached at 410-360-8088.

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