Craig Burkholder was sleeping when his neighbor sent a disturbing text message at 9:48 p.m. It said, “That light in our yard is a hog catcher, he knows about your horses.”
Burkholder read it in the morning and thought, “Oh, expletive, I should go down.”
Soon he would find what he feared. One of his five beautiful horses had been shot Sept. 18 or 19 on his 22-acre property in Honomu, a small town north of Hilo on the Big Island.
Onyx, a Friesian/Percheron mix, lay in the middle of her large field as her 11-week-old foal, Uhane, danced around her.
Onyx was dead, a bullet lodged in the front of her shoulder next to her leg.
The horse was shot by a friend of Robin Sandlin, the neighbor who sent the text. The friend, who has not been identified, was hunting wild hogs on Sandlin’s property because they continued to damage his 25-acre farm, which is listed for $1.425 million and has been on the market since June 23.
“We are very sad about that,” Sandlin said. “It was a tragic accident that we wish didn’t happen and that we wish we could recover from. But that’s not what we can do right now.”
Burkholder said he thinks it’s much worse than a tragic accident. And he is right.
Hawaii state law prohibits hunting from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise on public or private property. Artificial light for hunting is also prohibited.
And it’s also against the law to shoot and kill someone else’s horse.
Onyx was large, at 17.3 hands tall (nearly 6 feet), and was black in color, blending in with the darkness of the night.
But hunters should never shoot at something they can’t see.
“The hunter who shoots is responsible for where the bullet goes,” said Antonio Abraham, chairman of the Hawaii County Game Management Advisory Commission. “He is supposed to see beyond the intended target even before he shoots.”
Burkholder wants to know how in the world this hunter, who has not been publicly identified, mistakes a horse for a pig.
“Onyx wasn’t even close to the neighbor’s property line,” Burkholder said. “She was in the middle of my field.”
The hunter never asked for help for the horse. When Sandlin was asked if he knew he had been shot at a horse, he said, “I didn’t know,” before saying he couldn’t comment further.
Burkholder said he immediately called the Hawaii Police Department. Officer Collin Roberts responded. He left Burkholder and her husband Hal Fansler with notice. He included the report number and classified the incident as “Cruelty to Animals 1.”
Burkholder said Thursday that Officer Collins and another officer returned to his home to continue their investigation. He took the bullet fragment and also got information about Onyx’s value.
Burkholder said the officer told him the hunter turned the gun over to police. The hunter could face felony and misdemeanor charges.
Burkholder said the officer also told him that his neighbor is unlikely to be criminally charged.
Burkholder doesn’t understand why that might be the case, but said “100%” will face a civil case.
For Burkholder and Fansler, their horses are like their children and definitely part of their family.
Burkholder fought back tears as he spoke about his love for Onyx: “She was big and stately, with long hair on her feet. She was quite the queen.”
Onyx is about 16 years old and has been with Burkholder and Fansler for 12 years. They breed their horses, and Uhane was Onyx’s first foal.
“A lot of our friends came to visit us and Onyx acted very proud of her baby,” Burkholder said.
It’s also hard for him to talk about how much the foal misses his mom.
Uhane was trying to nurse Onyx after she was killed. Now Burkholder and Fansler are trying to integrate the baby horse with their three other adult horses who are housed in a different stable than the small one Onyx and Uhane shared before the incident.
“I have a good herd of horses. They are very welcoming,” Burkholder said. “But she is scared.”
After Onyx was shot, Burkholder said it took 40 minutes to get the anxious Uhane back to the barn.
Uhane was frantic for days. Burkholder and Fansler took turns sleeping in his stall, while the other slept in the back seat of a truck.
“Uhane is like a baby,” Burkholder said. “When she wakes up in a panic, Hal will talk to her and I’ll sing to her.”
She sings her own version of Evita’s “Don’t cry for me Argentina”, only it’s “Don’t cry for me Uhane”.
He said Uhane is a little better now and doesn’t need them to sleep at his post.
It’s been a traumatic few days for everyone. They had to use a bulldozer to load Onyx onto a trailer for a trip to his vet in nearby Waimea. The vet was able to retrieve the bullet.
Onyx is now buried on the Burkholder and Fansler estate.
Burkholder said the irony of the situation is that his neighbor initially didn’t want to set up boar traps because he didn’t want to kill them. So why his neighbor resorted to getting a hunter now, and at night, is puzzling.
And why did they text him so late at night, while he was sleeping? If she had gotten the text sooner, she would have secured all of his horses in her stable.
“It was so reckless. So irresponsible,” said Burkholder, who wants everyone responsible to be held accountable. “We are so heartbroken.”
A friend of Burkholder and Fansler has created a gofundme account: Justice for Onxy and Care for Uhane.
“We are very appreciative of all the support we have received,” said Burkholder. “We feel that the whole community feels what we do.”