The State Fire Marshal's Office has ruled a barn fire in Morgan County that killed eight horses as arson.
"I just can't believe somebody would do something like this and do this to poor animals," said Owner Brent Whitehouse.
Seven adult horses and one foal died as a result of an arson fire at 874 West Richards Road in McConnelsville just after 11:30 p.m. on Sunday. Owner Brent Whitehouse said he woke to discover the barn engulfed in flames and immediately called 911, but it was too late.
"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," he said.
Those who know Brent believe this was a hate crime, explicit words relating to his sexuality were spray painted in large white letters on the side of the barn before the fire was started.
"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," said Friend Bobbie Nelson.
"Whatever his sexual orientation was it had nothing to do with him as a person and to take it out on these innocent horses was beyond any fathom of what anybody should ever do to anybody," said Yvette Yeadon.
Yeadon worked closely with many of the animals on a weekly basis. She said the foal was only a-week-old and one of the other horses was expected to give birth any day now.
"They were just in the beginning stages of life and they should've had the chance to live a wonderful life, and they didn't," she said.
Investigators are asking anyone with information about the fire or the messages painted on the barn to call the Division of the State Fire Marshal or the Morgan County Sheriff's Office.
State Fire Marshal's Office: 1-800-589-2728
Morgan County Sheriff's Office: 740-962-4044