The scenic hills near an abandoned Eastern Kentucky strip mine were considered a haven for local horses.

Described as secluded and peaceful, the land — which toes the border of Pike and Floyd counties — is jointly owned by members of the community. Miles of rugged terrain make it accessible only via ATV. There are no buildings, people or farmland; just large, open space that 30 or so horses once called home.

Until now.

A troubling call to the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office on Monday sparked a revelation that has unnerved landowners and law enforcement alike: Someone fatally shot about 15 of the horses, at least two of which were pregnant.

The heinous crime has drawn national attention, and authorities are offering thousands of dollars for information that could lead to an arrest.

“It’s awful they died the way they did. It was murder — there’s no other term for it; it was a massacre,” said Megan Goble, an animal-rescue volunteer who lives in the area. “They deserve for their deaths not to be in vain.”

Goble, 30, has lived in the Eastern Kentucky hills since she was 3 years old and was among the first to see the slain horses. She, like others in the community, has long been fond of the animals, taking time to give them treats and feed them hay during the winter months. The horses were so friendly that they would often eat out of her hands.

As a volunteer with Dumas Rescue, Goble said she has seen animals harmed in ways that shook her to the core. But she called this level of violence, purportedly carried out by someone with a small-caliber rifle, a “different level.”

“Somebody had to go way out of their way to do what they did,” she said. “If you’re in these hills in Eastern Kentucky, you’re going to get lost if you don’t know where you’re going. It had to be someone familiar with the area.”

Pictures of the slain horses were reviewed by The Washington Post. At least three appeared to be yearlings, a horse between 1 and 2 years old, while the other colorful horses were adults. Two were mares that showed evidence of miscarriage.

In some of the pictures, bullet wounds were clearly visible. Goble believes there are possibly more dead horses that haven’t been discovered yet.

“This is very inhumane and it’s a very cruel act of somebody who just apparently had nothing else to do or whatever just to go back on a strip job and shoot down horses who were, one of them obviously was feeding, had grass in its mouth,” Floyd County Sheriff John Hunt told WYMT, an Eastern Kentucky news outlet.

Goble said members of the community, outraged and heartbroken, are extremely motivated to track down whoever is responsible. Hunt echoed that message and personally offered a $500 reward for any information leading to an arrest. But thanks to national contributions, that amount ballooned to upward of $15,000 Thursday night, according to the sheriff’s office.

Dumas Rescue, which is working with the sheriff’s office to track down the killer, has set up a fund for public donations.

In a Thursday-morning update, Hunt said deputies planned to return to the scene to gather more evidence for the investigation. In a bit of foreshadowing, he indicated the reward amount had increased “substantially.” Goble is optimistic that the large reward will encourage someone to come forward with information.

“It has been heartbreaking seeing these beautiful horses killed,” he wrote. “But it had been equally heartwarming to see all the concerns and see all the support in assisting in the investigation and to give the living horses a good home. Thank you to everyone.”

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