Owner distraught over shooting of horse

Police think the incident took place Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
Friday, December 15, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:02 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

Tom Stewart says he feels like he’s in an emotional vacuum, devoid of sensation.

Sometime late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning Stewart’s pregnant mare, April, was shot between the eyes with what the Boone County Sheriff’s Department thinks was a high-powered rifle.

Stewart said he was either not at his Bearfield Road home during the shooting, or could not hear it, as the shooting took place far from his home. He discovered April’s body at 11 a.m. Wednesday after he walked out to the pasture behind his home to check on his 10 horses and do chores on his property.

“Whoever did this obviously knows how to handle a large rifle,” Stewart said while stroking the mane of another horse. “Now I know what a victim is — I’m traumatized by this unfortunate accident. It’s not fair. I know what closure is, and I want to know who did this to her, because I’m not happy not knowing. Since I’ve retired, this has been my passion.”

Stewart said his horses serve as workhorses for Mennonites and other area people.

He said that when he found April he could tell she had been dead for some time because rigor mortis had set in. His other nine horses were not hurt.

Stewart immediately called the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, and deputies arrived at 12:20 p.m. Their investigation was ongoing as of Thursday evening.

Stewart, with the help of his neighbor Rick Shanker took the horse to the MU Veterinary Hospital for postmortem examination. The autopsy showed April had died instantly, Stewart said.

“What we have determined so far is that the shot did not take place at point-blank range,” said Sgt. Mike Stubbs, a detective with the sheriff’s department.

“One of the determining factors is the presence of a powder burn on a body if it is shot at point-blank range. Different firearms leave different traces of powder at different distances, but from what we pieced together, the firearm was something such as a high-powered deer-hunting rifle — definitely not a pistol or a 22.”

Stubbs said that the department is trying to determine if anyone nearby heard the gunshots or saw anything suspicious.

“We’re trying to find out if anyone has seen any flashlights or spotlights in the darkness,” he said. “Deer poachers sometimes illegally use spotlights to temporarily blind the deer’s eyes so that they have a clear shot at the animal’s head.”

Stewart said April was pregnant with a mule, the sterile combination of a horse and a donkey.

“April’s been a good horse for me,” he said. “This was her third pregnancy, and she was seven months into it.

The mule was due to be born in May.

Stewart has always felt a strong connection to his animals. He raises horses and mules on his farm, located at 5531 Bearfield Road, and on the adjacent property, at 5571 Bearfield Road, where he rents his house. He also grows lespedeza grass, which he said is the finest hay for horses.

Anyone with any information is encouraged to call the Boone County Sheriff’s Department at 875-1111 or CrimeStoppers at 875-TIPS (8477). Sgt. Stubbs said that the caller may remain anonymous, if he or she wishes.

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