Federal and Crook County officials working to solve the fatal shooting of three wild horses returned to an area about 30 miles east of Prineville to continue their investigation Friday and found three more shot and killed, bringing the total to six.
Coincidentally, that’s the number of wild horses found shot and killed in the spring of 2011, a case still unsolved despite a $4,000 reward offered by the Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition.
Sheriff’s deputies assisted Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management officials Friday, returning to the area off Forest Service Road 22 near the 500 spur north of Big Summit Prairie to continue their investigation.
The three additional horses were found within a quarter-mile of the three found last weekend by hunters in the area, said sheriff’s Sgt. Travis Jurgens.
Anyone with information in the case was asked to contact Forest Service law enforcement at (541) 383-5798 or the Crook County Sheriff's Office at (541) 447-6398.
"We walked over there a little closer, and there was a older mare that had been shot, that was obviously dead," Powell Butte hunter Ron Shelton, who found the horses while hunting with his daughter, recalled Wednesday.
Shelton told NewsChannel 21 he found a dead mare, shot through the neck, and a younger horse was standing next to her with a gunshot wound through the shoulder.
They ended up finding three shot horses, two adults and an adolescent, sheriff's Sgt. James Savage said, adding that “it appears that they had been shot several days prior.”
"You know, it was elk season -- (but) there's absolutely no, no way that I could see anybody confusing these with a cow elk, because they were black," Shelton said.
Capt. Dan Smith, who oversees the area’s Forest Service law enforcement officers. said the officer who responded on the case said he found one of the three wounded horses "barely alive with mortal injuries, and he had to put it down."
Shelton said they called the sheriff’s office and later learned the case had been turned over to Forest Service law enforcement.
"One is too many," said Gayle Hunt, president and founder of the Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition. "You always wonder about the senseless nature behind it. What would make a person to do this?"
Smith said they were unsure of the gender of the horses, due to the decomposition by the time they were located Sunday evening.
The horse-shooting case has tragic echoes of one in the spring of 2011, when six wild horses were found fatally shot in the Ochocos. First located were two stallions and a mare; the latter apparently had been pregnant and had a foal about a year old with her at the time, nudging her and trying to get her back on her feet when the deputy arrived, the sheriff’s office said.
The Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition initially offered a $1,000 reward that eventually grew to $4,000 in hopes of solving that case, but no arrests have been made.
“We worked it and worked it,” said Crook County Sheriff Jim Hensley. “It’s still an active, unresolved case at this time.”
Hunt said her organization is offering a reward that now stands at $1,100 in the latest case as well, to assist authorities in efforts to find the culprits.
Hensley said they will be assisting the Forest Service in the latest case, and are investigating to determine whether the recent horse shootings may be connected to the unsolved ones from 2011.
While Forest Service law enforcement are working on the case despite the partial government shutdown, Hensley said a federally funded sheriff’s deputy who worked in the forest had his position eliminated since 2011 when that funding stopped. Federal officials restricted that money use to search and rescue efforts, he said.