Horse News

Four Dead Wild Horses Create Many More Questions

as published on The White Mountain Independent

“All four horses are believed to be part of the Heber Wild Horse herd …”

Heber Stallion

HEBER-OVERGAARD — Not far from the rushing traffic on State Route 260 and the Bison Ranch tourist development, two horses lie dead.

“Whoever did this to these horses has no respect for life and no respect for themselves,” says Stacy L. Sanchez of Overgaard. “There’s no reason to shoot or harm these animals.”

Sanchez was one of several local residents who are sickened, heartbroken and angry after finding a total of four dead horses in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, just a few hundred yards south of SR260.

All four horses are believed to be part of the Heber Wild Horse herd that live on over 19,000 acres that make up the Heber Wild Horse Territory.

All that remains of two horses are skeletons. The other two horses, a stallion and a mare with a surviving yearling filly, appear to have died on or around Monday, January 21. However, time of death, cause and manner of death is currently unknown.

The January 15 sighting of the skeletons was reported by an anonymous party to the Heber Wild Horses Freedom Preservation Alliance (a.k.a. Heber Wild Horses), a non-profit group who has been advocating for the horses for several years.

Representatives of Heber Wild Horses reported the information to the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office, as the Forest Service was unavailable due to the federal government shutdown. They also took photographs of the remains, documenting date, time, weather conditions and other vehicles seen in the area.

One week later, on Tuesday, January 22, the bodies of two more horses were found dead in the same area as the skeletal remains. The Heber Wild Horses group also contacted the Independent by phone and email on Tuesday.

The horses found on Tuesday had barely begun to decay so advocates and local residents are hopeful that their bodies hold clues to their demise.

“I’ve kind of been a go-between,” says Stacy L. Sanchez of Overgaard. “I live in the immediate area and took pictures of the stallion, the mare and the yearling filly yesterday.”

Sanchez is so upset by the deaths of the horses he waited in the area for the veterinarian to “come take the bullets out of the horses,” he told the Independent at the scene Tuesday evening.

“Robin and I were standing right here looking at the dead stallion and saw the bay mare on the hill,” recalls Sanchez. “Both horses look like they were shot dead and they are, literally, 600 feet from each other.”

“Now the mare’s filly is running around and has no idea what to do,” proclaims Sanchez. “She ran off across the wash and now she is hiding in the thick. We’re hoping she hooks up with another band soon.”

Members of the Heber Wild Horses group are confident that the cause of death for all four horses and a couple of coyotes found nearby was gunshot wounds. They don’t have proof because they didn’t witness the incidents so they are relying on John Lopez, the Forest Service investigator assigned to the case, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Heber resident and Heber Wild Horses member Robin Crawford has been a boots-on-the ground member for several years. She waited by the horses’ bodies with Sanchez, hoping a veterinarian would arrive before dark. She also spoke candidly to the Independent about the situation.

“I’m so frustrated right now; I have just about had it,” says Crawford in response to what the advocates feel is a lack of urgency on the part of the Forest Service when it comes to the Heber Wild Horses.

Also on Tuesday, Navajo County Sheriff K.C. Clark confirmed that he had been notified of the incident(s) and was in fact en route to Heber to “investigate a call about dead horses.” In a brief phone conversation with the Independent later that day, Clark confirmed that U.S. Forest Service Deputy John Lopez would be investigating, as the case falls under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service.

“(Navajo County) Deputy Shawna Many Goats and Deputy Hunt came out here after we called but said that we have to let the Forest Service handle this,” says Crawford. “That’s what we did when the two stallions were shot last summer and we still have no answers.”

“When John Lopez arrived he told us that we have to call Forest Service Dispatch and we are not supposed to call the Sheriff’s office,” added Crawford. “It’s being investigated — that’s what they always tell us.”

Heber Wild Horses has posted updates on their social media page. They are still offering a $2,500 reward “for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the person(s) responsible for the deaths of the horses.”

“Band stallion in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona found shot dead,” reads the heading of their Tuesday social media post.

Citizens Against Equine Slaughter, (CAES), a political action group that actively supports preservation of the Heber Wild Horses, also contacted the Independent by phone and email.

CAES is urging the public to contact the Navajo County Sheriff’s office WeTIP Hotline at 1-800-78-CRIME. They may also be contacted directly at 541-315-6650.

In addition to the reward being offered, Heber Wild Horses and Citizens Against Equine Slaughter, (CAES), are not waiting around for the results of a Forest Service investigation, which they distrust.

“I’m calling the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” assures Crawford.

The distrust they express relates to the apparently unresolved October, 2018, death of two stallions in the Heber Wild Horse Territory. That situation is similar in nature because horse advocates and some members of the public believe the stallions were purposely shot. This case is still under investigation by the Forest Service.

Tuesday’s reported deaths of the black stallion and bay mare appear uncomfortably similar to last October’s deaths.

“The vet is supposed to come find the projectiles in the horses but we’ve been through this before,” stated Crawford on Tuesday evening. “Low and behold they told us they didn’t find anything when the stallions were found last fall and were buried after we complained. Evidence just seems to disappear up here,” says Crawford.

“We are contacting Congressman Raul Grijalva and the Attorney General on behalf of Heber Wild Horses,” says Val Cecema-Hogsett of CAES.

Killing wild horses is a violation of US 95-192, the federal law governing protection of wild horses. The Heber Wild Horses are considered protected under this Act.

“Any person who … maliciously causes the death or harassment of any wild free-roaming horse or burro… shall be subject to a fine of not more than $2,000, or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both,” reads the code on the Bureau of Land Management website under Section 8, which documents The Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.

“The manner of death of these animals is undetermined at this time,” said Navajo County Sheriff Deputy Randy Moffitt, in a phone conversation with the Independent on Wednesday. “Some people are speculating that the horses have been shot, but this information has not been confirmed by our agency, or by any other law enforcement or investigating agency.”

“With any criminal investigation of this nature, evidence is crucial in determining cause of death,” reminded Moffitt. “This is in the hands of the Forest Service now, as it is their jurisdiction.”

“With regard to public safety, the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office will respond to reports of people shooting in an unsafe manner,” assured Moffitt. “We will continue to investigate all calls as we receive them. Through that process we make a determination of whether law enforcement action is necessary,” said Moffitt.

The Independent contacted the Forest Service, asking for a press release regarding the dead horses. Despite the federal government shutdown, which includes the U.S. Forest Service, email responses were received within hours of the requests.

“Currently, USDA Forest Service Law Enforcement are investigating several incidents such as these, and therefore cannot comment on the details of ongoing investigations,” wrote Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests Supervisor Steve Best in a Wednesday email response to the Independent.

19 replies »

  1. Has anyone run a metal detector over the carcasses? Might be a quick and easy way to determine if they were shot (unless the bullets went all the way through, but then there’d be an obvious exit location).

    Liked by 2 people

  2. From Citizens Against Equine Slaughter (CAES)

    Posted on January 24, 2019 by CAES


    These three men were seen in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, Arizona on January 21st, 2019 just hours before the horses were shot. We think they may have information that could lead to an arrest. The following pictures were taken of the vehicle and wild horses they were with at that time. They told our ground crew they had stopped to remove a halter from one of the wild horses. This was not the band that was shot but was still in the same territory.

    We believe at least one of the men is from Young, Arizona. He frequents the forest and often is towing this empty horse trailer.

    If you have any information on who these gentlemen are please contact our office at 541.315.6650. We can keep your name confidential.

    We just want to locate these men to see if they have information on the shootings. Someone has to have information and there is a reward being offered for information that leads to the arrest and prosecution of the person(s) that have killed 6 horses since December in this wild herd.

    UPDATE~~Yesterday we reported that an entire family band was massacred however since then we have found one orphaned weanling filly. She is spooked but otherwise doing fine. Our volunteers are checking on her, we have placed cameras in various places throughout the area and we will keep you updated.
    If you would like to contribute to the reward fund or our costs as we continue to fight for this herd and others throughout the west please use the button below to do so.
    Again…any information on these men, or if you recognize the truck and trailer please contact us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • From Citizens Against Equine Slaughter (CAES)

      Posted on January 24, 2019 by CAES


      January 24, 2019 at 8:10 am

      Reader Comment
      You can read the license plate # on the trailer, Its 81975-N. Run the plates and question the owner.

      Liked by 1 person

    • What wild horse is ever wearing a halter — much less letting anyone near enough to take it of– especially strangers? The nugget of information that said they haul an empty trailer around in the forest on a regular basis is pretty sketchy, too. It seems they may be turning horses loose or… trafficking in other unsavory matters on our public lands. Was the one they claimed to take the halter off also shot?


  3. From Citizens Against Equine Slaughter (CAES)

    Posted on January 22, 2019 by CAES


    CAES has been working for 2 days on a story of a mare and foal that were found deceased. While we were working on that story the news that this stallion pictured above was shot last night.

    The Navajo County Sheriff and Forest Service (FS) Law Enforcement were out there to investigate this stallions death today. They told our team on the ground that they are sending their veterinarian to retrieve the bullets from the deceased animal which was shot twice.

    These incidents are similar to the horses shot in October, and the killers were not found nor were the bullets retrieved from those 2 stallions. We know that the body of this stallion is not being left unwatched while awaiting the arrival of the veterinarian. Last time the horses were buried before the FS retrieved any evidence.

    The mare and foal found a few weeks ago were not found in time to determine the cause of death, but were found in the same location as this stallion and 4 young coyotes that were shot.

    These incidents have occurred right off State Route 260 in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. It is unclear at this time if we have someone shooting from or toward the highway but we caution anyone who is going to be in the area to be very aware of their surroundings. People who have the ability to kill just for the thrill are known to cross over to killing humans as well.

    There is a reward offered for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the person(s) responsible. And we would like to remind people that killing a wild horse is a federal crime that carries a penalty of $100,000 per horse and/or one year in jail.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a bunch of thuggish looking characters. I see that some people are taking full advantage of the gov’t shutdown (not that the responsible agencies do much anyway). I do hope the Internet will recognize and report them.

    I’m sick of the ranching is king bull.

    Liked by 1 person


    Who is killing Heber wild horses? Filly orphaned after 7 horses shot, killed
    Jan 31, 2019

    By: Fay Fredricks

    In a community that relies on tourism dollars, fear of what, or who, is in the area doing this is bad for business.

    “We have people come from Germany, Italy, France. We have people who come from Romania,” Hutchison says.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Horse carcasses pile up in Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests
    By Laura Singleton The Independent

    The Independent was able to confirm with Forest Service authorities that a Forest Service Deputy and a veterinary expert are currently on scene actively investigating.

    More information will be provided as it becomes available.

    Heber Wild Horses and CAES have requested updates about the status of the ongoing investigation(s) since last year. They have also asked if necropsies would be performed on the horses to determine the cause of death. They have also asked for bullets to be removed from the horses in an effort to preserve evidence and to apprehend whomever may be killing the federally protected animals.

    Answers have yet to be provided.

    Requests for information from state and local media, area residents and the horse advocate groups about when, or if, necropsies will be performed on the dead horses remain unanswered by the Forest Service.
    Boots-on-the-ground members of Heber Wild Horses have also gathered pages and pages of information documenting what they feel is “suspicious activity” in the forest prior to finding the dead horses.

    They say they have attempted to share this information with the Forest Service to no avail. “We have over three dozen tips that have been called into us but the Forest Service has not taken them,” explains Cecema-Hogsett. “I was told by the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office that the Forest Service was the lead agency and I needed to contact them regarding the tips. When I call Forest Service dispatch, I am told that they will ‘pass it on’ but I have yet to receive a call from Investigator John Lopez or any other member of the Forest Service


    • Perhaps our Wild Horses & Burros need to be put under the protection of the Dept of Homeland Security..if the other agencies are unwilling or unable to handle the challenge.


      • I am wondering if the above-mentioned Robin Crawford of the HWHG ever contacted the FBI on the deaths, which now are definitely at very alarming levels and definitely need to be addressed by a higher authority.
        The public safety issue should be a cause for big concern as the sick culprits are still at large and will continue to flaunt their “power”.
        Does anyone have any further info?


      • Deborah Rainwater, a whole binder of information was hand delivered to the FBI in Phoenix a couple of months ago.

        Liked by 1 person

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