Fire officials are offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest in an arson near McConnelsville, Ohio, that is being treated as a hate crime.
Property owner James Whitehouse had gotten up just before midnight to check on one of the registered quarterhorses when he discovered his barn was set ablaze. The fire killed eight horses and caused nearly $500,000 in damage, according to the state fire marshal’s office. Prior to being set on fire, several anti-gay messages were spray-painted on the barn.
“I just can’t believe somebody would do something like this and do this to poor animals,” Whitehouse said to WHIZ- TV. “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.”
Friends in the small Ohio town are rallying around Whitehouse, telling local media outlets that his sexuality is nobody’s business.
“Whatever [Whitehouse’s] 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,” Yvette Yeadon said to WHIZ-TV.
The fire marshal’s office is asking for any information regarding the fire and is encouraging anyone who may have seen or hear something out of the ordinary to contact them at (800) 589-2728 or the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office at (740) 962-4044.
“The barn I can rebuild, but the bond I had with those horses can’t be replaced,” Whitehouse said to the Zainesville Times Recorder. “Whoever [sic] did this had to walk right by all those horses, including the baby, and didn’t care that they were killing a gentle, loving animal.”