In a horrific crime that sparked outrage and garnered international headlines, 15 wild horses were shot to death and four others were left severely injured at the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest near Alpine, Arizona.

According to the Center for a Humane Economy,  volunteers with the Alpine Wild Horse Advocates, the dead horses were killed by gunshots to the body or between the eyes and the injured had bullet wounds to the face and abdomen. Witnesses reported that at least 20 more members of the herd are missing and feared injured or killed. The horses were members of the Alpine herd, which has been targeted for removal by the Forest Service, which has already trapped and captured 20 of the horses who, due to their unprotected status, are at risk of being sold to kill buyers for slaughter in Mexican or Canadian meat plants.

A group of horse welfare and animal rights groups have banded together to offer a monetary reward for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the cruel slaughter of these horses. The Center for a Humane Economy and Animal Wellness Action have offered a $5,000 reward that is in addition to an offer of $10,000 from American Wild Horse Campaign and another $10,000 from the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group.

The U.S. Forest Service has posted on its website  that it continues to plan for the removal of “feral horses” which the organization refer to as “unauthorized livestock.” Given the federal agency’s position it is unclear what, if any, cooperation from them in an investigation would be forthcoming.

The plight of America’s wild horses is one that has been in the news frequently the past several decades. It is a complex issue that pits horse lovers and advocates against ranchers, developers, and a bureaucracy that involves the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies, who deem the horses an “invasive species.” The wild horse round-ups are cruel, and many horses suffer injuries and death during these “drives.” The BLM pens have been the source of further cruelty and neglect, and the adoption program has recently come under fire for its payment to adoptees, only to find out the horses were later sold on to slaughterhouses.