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May 6, 2011

Eight horses are burned to death in anti-gay arson

McConnelsville, Ohio--Eight horses, including a foal and a pregnant mare, were killed in a fire set as an anti-gay hate crime.

The Ohio Fire Marshal’s office has ruled that the April 24 fire was arson, partly because the barn was sprayed with anti-gay graffiti, including “Burn in hell, fag” and “Fags are freaks.”

Brent Whitehouse woke up at 11:30 pm and discovered his barn ablaze. He says that he tried to get the barn door open to release the horses but that it would not budge. The fire was so hot that a tractor inside the building melted.

“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 told WHIZ Channel 18 in Zanesville.

The fire took only five minutes to completely destroy the barn. Some of the sheet metal siding of the outside walls remains standing, with the graffiti visible on it.

The fire marshal is investigating the arson as a hate crime, although Ohio’s “ethnic intimidation” law does not cover crimes based on the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. A federal law passed last year does, however.

In addition to a week-old foal in the barn, another mare was likely to give birth any day, which is why Whitehouse got up at that hour.

“I knew the way she was acting Saturday and Sunday that she was ready,” he told the Zanesville Times-Recorder’s Chris Cook and Kathy Thompson. “My dog was acting funny and I looked out the window and saw this orange glow coming from the barn.”

Whitehouse is an insurance agent in McConnelsville, in Morgan County about 120 miles south of Cleveland, as well as a horse trainer and breeder. His house and the large barn are just outside of town.

A total of at least $12,500 in rewards have been offered for information on the arson. The Humane Society of the United States is offering $2,500, while the Ohio FAIR Plan Underwriting Association, which works with insurance companies, firefighters and law enforcement to combat arson, added another $5,000. The final $5,000 so far came from Jeffrey P. Gold of New York.

“When I saw the story I was just appalled,” Gold said. “It was such a sick thing to do. Not only was this probably a hate crime, but innocent animals were killed, and it just enrages me.”

“I’m gay, and as a gay man this affects me doubly,” he continued. “I felt strongly enough that I believe in helping with the reward.”

Whitehouse has seen a deluge of emails and calls offering aid in rebuilding and moral support.

“What I’m going to do with money donated is to create a fund that will go to injured animals and children,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, children and animals are helpless and the most innocent things in the world.”

“Those horses were like my children,” he noted. “I have been in shock by someone wanting to destroy them, but then I’ve had so much support and help from not just friends and people in the community, but from all across the country . . . It just warms my heart.”

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