The investigation into the slaying of horses on a Floyd County strip mine continues, with law enforcement reporting the tips are still pouring in and animal rescue groups continuing efforts to recover horses that survived the shooting.
Floyd County Sheriff’s Detective Kevin Shepherd said the department is “making some progress” in the investigation. He reported this week that the number of horses killed by gun fire on the strip mine increased to 21 and the reward offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible has increased to $23,000.
Shepherd reported that the department is still waiting on results from evidence that was sent off for examination in the case. He said the department is receiving tips daily, and a “few persons of interest” have emerged.
“Unfortunately, because of back log through the crime lab, we’re stiSave and closell waiting on things that we sent off. We’re still going on the tips, they’re still coming in,” he said. “As of right now, we’ve got a few persons of interest. There’s nothing set in stone, it’s just something that we’re, that need to be looked at a little bit more. As far as being close-close to an arrest, there’s nothing at this time, but, like I said, we’re still taking in tips that are coming in. So, even though we think we have something that we need to move forward with, we’re still checking the other ones out, because you never know, it might link into something that’s we’ve already got knowledge of. We’re not close to making an arrest, but we have some things that we’re looking at a little harder.”
He said the department is “getting close” to resolving the case.
“We’re getting close. Like I said, we are definitely making some progress. It’s not something that we can say that, yeah, we’ve got a lead, but it’s things that taking us to different routes,” he said.
Shepherd said the person or persons responsible could be charged with 21 misdemeanors and one felony.
“If things don’t change, what they’re looking at now is 21 counts of cruelty to animals and one criminal mischief, first, charge, which is a felony,” he said. “Unfortunately, the cruelty to animals is a misdemeanor, but that’s what they’ll be facing.”
He said he’s been encouraged by the tips the department has received from the public. He said some of them have been hearsay, but those tips are investigated as well.
“It’s been overwhelming at times,” he said. “Since it happened, I probably haven’t came in this office a single time where there’s at least four or five messages left for me, and that’s not including on our tip line, where people contact us and try to leave anonymous tips ... It’s overwhelming and it’s great to see people trying to bring this to an end.”
He said catching the person or persons responsible is “just a matter of us getting out and grinding and trying to follow up on the tips.” He also said, “It’s going to come down to the public. The evidence we got is good evidence, but we’re going to have to have the help of somebody that saw something, who knows something.”
When asked what the public could do to help, Shepherd said, “Come forward. If they want to remain anonymous, I understand there’s a reward involved and I can’t say their name would never not be brought up in it, but, you know, just call. This is a person that needs to be dealt with. I think the sheriff said one time that they’re just a step away from getting brave enough to do this to humans ... They need to be caught. This is a person who took it upon theirselves to go out ... and just shoot 21 horses for no reason. There’s no reason for that. They just need to be brave enough to call and let us do our job and let the court deal with them.”
Tonya Conn of Dumas Rescue said she’s also received numerous tips since the slaying of these horses. Since last month, the nonprofit has been working to round up six horses that survived the shooting. She reported that the Kentucky Humane Society Equine CARE agency in Simpsonville now has three horses that were rescued from the strip mine — a 15-year-old pregnant mare named Hope and her colt, Knocks, and Diamond who is 15 or 16 months.
“We have just been going back and working with the horses, giving them feed and hay and trying to get them accumulated to human contact and human touch so that we can basically get them in corral panels and load them onto a trailer,” Conn said.
Last Saturday, they rescued Diamond from the strip mine, using a donated farm tractor to pull the trailer.
“Strip mine horses will, they group out. They’ll be a group of four, a group of five, kind of like teenagers in high school,” Conn said. “And when we took the mare and colt off of there on Dec. 27, this one, the colt from the year before that was with her momma and her little brother, she ran back to the other part of the herd and we couldn’t load her.”
She explained that Diamond had “been stuck” with another group of horses, and when they returned last Saturday, “like she was looking for her momma and her brother.”
She said the volunteers had three horses in a corral panel, ready to shut the gate, and gunshots in the distance scared them away.
“I think somebody was just back there practice shooting across the way and those horses heard it and it terrified them, of course, which is to be expected because of what they’ve been through,” she said. “They bolted and were snorting ... It was too dangerous for us and our team to try to collect them and load them with them that scared.”
Conn said most of the 21 horses that were killed were under 14 or 15 years old.
“I saw one older stallion back there that had been shot. The others were younger mares, under 15 years old. Most of them are mares and colts and the mares were pregnant again,” she said.
She explained that the horses that survived included three males that had been castrated and could not breed, a stallion colt, and a pregnant mare and her colt.
“To me, they targeted pregnant horses or horses that were able to procreate or reproduce. I don’t know if that’s it, but when I sit back in look at it, I ask why did those six live ? ... Was somebody trying to target horses to keep there from being more back there? I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve looked at every angle.”
The bodies of these horses are decaying naturally on the strip mine, Conn said.
“They’re just in their natural state because the terrain is not suitable to bury them or remove them. It’s hard enough to get back there to do anything, and it wouldn’t be — I mean, some of them are in such a bad position or in terrain that even if you did get an excavator back there to bury them, it would put the operator in danger, or you would have to drag a decomposing body so far up a hill that you’re going to mangle it beyond recognition,” she said. “It’s honestly best to just let nature take its course.”
She said she hasn’t had a good night’s sleep since the dead horses were discovered.
“I haven’t slept a full night since it happened,” Conn said. “I can’t close my eyes and not see that.”
She explained that horses can read a person’s facial expression.
“To go back there and see that and see the fear in the eyes of these horses that are laying there dead, it’s just incomprehensible. It’s changed me, really, it has,” she said. “I can’t go to sleep without see them. I worry about the ones that are still back there that we need to rescue yet. I feel that once we get those three back off the hill that I’ll be able to find some closure, you know, with part of it — that we’ve gotten some of them to safety.”
Dumas Rescue is seeking donations of equipment that could be used to pull a trailer on the strip mine to rescue the three remaining horses, and donations of hay and salt for other horse herds running through Floyd County.
Conn reported that her team has found a herd of 35 horses abandoned on a strip mine in Magoffin County that borders Rough and Tough in Floyd County, as well as another herd in Prater Creek, located on a strip mine across the road from where the horses were killed on Daniels Creek, with 22 horses.
She asks the public to donate funds for Dumas Rescue to purchase hay and salt for those horses and encourages residents who know of horse herds on strips mines to provide them hay and salt over the next few weeks. She said grass is not growing this winter and the next few weeks will be “critical” to the survival of these horses.
“The late fall drought stopped any late fall growth of grass, so these horses are, right now, I’m going to say this week and next week when it starts to get cold, are going to be at the peak of starvation,” she said. “If someone knows of a strip job that has horses, if they could take hay and salt them in the next few weeks until the grass starts growing again, it would be great help to keep them safe and out of the roadways and keep them from going onto somebody’s property and this maybe happening again.”
She said Dumas Rescue and Kentucky Humane Society Equine CARE is going to seek legislation that makes it illegal to keep horses on a strip mine.
“We’re just hoping that they didn’t die in vain,” she said.
For more information about the rescue effort, visit Dumas Rescue on Facebook or call Conn at, (606) 339-8090.
Tips about the person or persons responsible may be provided to the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department at, (606) 949-2020, or, (606) 886-6171.