'Like killing a child': 8 horses dead in possible hate crime

Image: The remains of Brent Whitehouse's barn in McConnelsville smolder
The ruined remains of Brent Whitehouse's barn in McConnelsville smolder Monday afternoon.Chris Crook / Zanesville Times Recorder
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

Eight horses — including one just a week old and another on the verge of giving birth — died in an Ohio barn fire that authorities may investigate as a hate crime, according to a local newspaper.

Ohio resident Brent Whitehouse awoke just before midnight on Easter Sunday to check on Love, his pregnant quaterhorse, only to find a harrowing scene: his barn — which housed seven adult horses and one foal — was glowing orange, the Zanesville Times Recorder reported.

Whitehouse told WHIZ News he ran to the barn and desperately tried to open the doors and free his animals.

“I couldn’t get the door open. I could still hear the horses kicking and I tried as hard as I could to get them out, and I just couldn’t get them out in time.”

The flames were so hot a tractor inside the barn melted, said Whitehouse.

The Times Recorder reported that spray-painted epithets such as "f-gs are freaks" and "burn in hell" were clearly visible on the barn's gutted walls.

When asked about the messages, Whitehouse told the Times Recorder "they were hateful."

The State Fire Marshal's Office ruled the fire an arson, and according to a number of reports, authorities were looking at the possibility of launching a hate crime investigation. Whitehouse's sexual orientation was not clear.

The horses are said to be valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but Whitehouse says he's more hurt by the loss of his beloved creatures.

"The barn I can rebuild, but the bond I had with those horses can't be replaced," he told the Times Recorder. "I just don't understand someone wanting to kill innocent animals. It's like killing a child."

The police and fire marshal's office hope anyone with information comes forward, and a reward of up to $5,000 is being offered by the Blue Ribbon Arson Committee.

Bobbie Nelson, a friend of Whitehouse, told WHIZ News, “They obviously don’t know him very well, because he’s a sweet-hearted person and how he lives his lifestyle is nobody’s business but his own.”

Visit the Zanesville Times Recorder for more on this story.