Thirteen horses were apparently shot and killed at an abandoned strip mining location in eastern Kentucky this week, authorities said. Two of the horses were pregnant and five belonged to residents in the area.
The owners contacted Floyd County Sheriff's Office on Monday after he discovered five of his horses were among the dead. The others were unowned horses who had occupied the area for years.
Deputies and members of Dumas Animal Rescue were searching the area on Thursday, which can only be accessed by all-terrain vehicles, a sheriff's spokesperson told CBS News.
The spokesperson said the wild horses frequent the abandoned strip mine, where there's' plenty of land for the animals to run free. They said the dead horses were being examined by veterinarians on Thursday.
"Seeing them gunned down is beyond horrific," Tonya Conn, president of Dumas Rescue, told CBS affiliate WYMT. "These horses were scattered in various, various places, distances from each other so they had been shot, and they'd scattered then hunted and shot down."
The rescue group said the horses — which were found scattered near the border of Floyd and Pike counties — were likely hunted. Law enforcement officials said the horses appear to have been shot using a low-caliber rifle.
"This is very inhumane and it's a very cruel act of somebody who just apparently had nothing else to do or whatever just to go back on a strip job and shoot down horses who were, one of them obviously was feeding, had grass in its mouth," Sheriff John Hunt said. "It looked like a battlefield for just horses."
The Humane Society of the United States is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible. The investigation is ongoing.
"It takes a truly heinous person to mercilessly shoot more than a dozen horses and leave them for dead," said Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. "We hope this reward will encourage anyone with information about this terrible crime to come forward."
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the new death count from the local sheriff's office.