Brent Whitehouse said he noticed an orange glow coming from the barn near his farmhouse in McConnelsville, Ohio, just before midnight Sunday. He ran out to the barn, but the door jammed -- its hinges likely melted from the fire's heat.
"I couldn't get the door open," Whitehouse told the Ohio news website WhizNews.com. "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."
"Whoever did this, I can't believe they would take the time to actually harm an innocent animal," Whitehouse told Channel 10 TV station. "Because the way that barn burned, they had to be around those horses. And to see a little baby colt, a week old, and know that they were going to kill it."
Video courtesy of WhizNews.com
Homophobic slurs like "Fags are freaks" and "Burn in hell" were discovered spray-painted on the smoldering wreckage of his barn. Authorities have launched a hate crime investigation, as Whitehouse is gay.
Neighbor and friend Bobbie Nelson said she believes those responsible for the arson "obviously don't know [Whitehouse] very well, because he's a sweet-hearted person, and how he lives his lifestyle is nobody's business but his own."
"To take it out on these innocent horses was beyond any fathom of what anybody should ever do to anybody," another neighbor who worked with Whitehouse's horses, Yvette Yeadon, also told WhizNews.
The dead animals were show horses. One of the eight, named Love, was a pregnant mare and about to give birth. Whitehouse estimated their value, along with the destroyed barn, to be more than $500,000.
"The barn I can rebuild, but the bond I had with those horses can't be replaced," he told the Zanesville Times Recorder.
The other horses were named Elvis, Barney, Bella, Ethel and Floyd -- plus a mare named Princess and her week-old foal, Buddy.
The state fire marshal's office has ruled that the fire was intentionally set. The local Blue Ribbon Arson Committee has announced a $5,000 reward for any information about who set the fire.
"No tip is considered too small or insignificant," fire marshal spokesman Shane Cartmill told the Times Recorder. "We want to hear from anyone who may have seen something out of the ordinary at, or around, the time of the fire or hear from someone else talking about the fire with an unusual level of interest or knowledge."