Owner of slain horse seeks justice, responsible gun usage

Photo courtesy Craig Burkholder Onyx, a Friesian mare shot and killed by a hunter in Honomu, and her 12-week-old foal, Uhani.

Police said Friday they’ll forward their investigation into the shooting of a Honomu couple’s horse to prosecutors for possible charges when their probe is complete.

According to police, they’ve identified a suspect in the fatal shooting of Onyx, a Friesian mare whose 3-month-old foal, Uhane, is now motherless. Possible charges include first-degree criminal property damage, first-degree reckless endangering, second-degree cruelty to animals, night hunting on private lands and hunting without a license.


The most serious charge, first-degree criminal property damage, is a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, upon conviction.

The shooting occurred either the night of Sept. 18 or the early morning of Sept. 19.

“We’re trying to save the baby, and we’re trying to get the baby to eat,” horse owner Craig Burkholder told the Tribune-Herald on Friday. “We’re exhausted, and we don’t even have the time to grieve because all of our energy is going into the baby.”

Burkholder said he and his husband, Hal Fansler, have taken turns sleeping in the barn. Burkholder said a veterinarian has seen the foal and said she is strong, but Burkholder worries that she isn’t eating enough.

“It just worries us because of the stress, and we’re trying to keep the stress down,” he said. “It’s helping that we have a gelding that is starting to bond with the baby.

“We’re just hoping that as time goes on, her hunger comes back and she’ll be feeding more.”

Police say Onyx was killed by a single gunshot wound to the torso and believe the animal was accidentally shot after being mistaken for a feral pig.

According to Burkholder, neighbors trying to sell their property brought in a hunter or hunter to kill feral pigs.

“We don’t know who the hunter is. I don’t appreciate them killing our horse,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s an accident when somebody aims a weapon and points a weapon in the direction of someone’s house and then pulls the trigger. Maybe they didn’t intend to kill the horse, but there’s a responsibility that comes with shooting into someone else’s property. And I’m sure they wouldn’t feel any different if someone shot into their field and killed their child — because I love my horses as much as they love their child. And my horses are just as important to me as their child is to them.”

Burkholder also finds it hard to believe that anyone can mistake a 17-hands-tall horse — which translates to about 5-foot-8 in height — to a feral pig, which is much shorter.

“What’s to say it wasn’t a person?” he queried. “And pointing a gun in my field, in the direction of my house and my barn, is unacceptable.”

“If you want to own a gun and discharge a firearm, I’m not opposed to that — but there’s a time and a place and a way to do it,” he continued. “And it’s not in someone’s back yard into someone else’s front yard. I’m not against owning a gun, but I am about safety and people not being so reckless and careless with other people.

“We’re not the only ones who have experienced loss from the irresponsible behavior or reckless behavior of people shooting guns. I mean, a couple of weeks ago, at (Camp Honokaia) Boy Scout Camp, someone lost their life. People need to be more responsible with weapons.”

Calls to the neighbors weren’t returned in time for this story.

Friends of Burkholder and Fansler have set up a GoFundMe fundraiser under the title “Justice for Onyx and Care For Uhane.” As of Friday afternoon, $5,760 had been raised toward a $30,000 goal.

Police are reminding the public that hunting at night is illegal, and hunting in residential neighborhoods is strictly prohibited.

“The safety and well-being of the community is of the highest importance, and violations of these laws will not be tolerated,” a statement from the Hilo Community Policing Section said.

Anyone with information should contact the department’s nonemergency line at (808) 935-3311. Those who prefer anonymity may Crime Stoppers number at (808) 961-8300 and may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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