PALMETTO -- An online fund set up to find the people responsible for a show horse's slaughter quickly surpassed its $30,000 goal.
The Centennial Equestrian Reward Fund was created Monday on GoFundMe by Steve and Debbie Stephens of Imperial Farms Equestrian Center in rural Palmetto. The couple said they hope the reward fund will help find the people responsible for killing Phedras de Blondel, a 12-year-old prize show jumper from Europe.
By Tuesday night, more than 280 people had donated nearly $35,000. Support stretched beyond Manatee County into other parts of Florida and other states, including California, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.
"Last night, someone trespassed onto the farm and stole a valuable grand prix horse that Debbie just purchased from France. They took the horse to the farthest edge of the property and brutally murdered him and butchered the body for meat," the campaign message reads. "We are shocked and horrified by this gruesome act and are working around the clock to find any information connected that could lead us to the monsters responsible."
Steve Stephens told the Herald the 1,300-pound animal was led from his stall at Imperial Farms between 8:30 p.m. Saturday and 6:45 a.m. Sunday, taken to a pen in the back of the 27-acre farm, killed and expertly butchered.
"This was a murder," he said. "If I had to make a guess, it was someone who knows how to hunt, like hunt deer, and knew how to take a large animal's life quickly. We have no enemies. We have no idea who did this."
A message to the Stephens was not returned as of press time.
The Manatee County Sheriff's Office is still investigating.
"We've gotten some information on it. We need more," sheriff's office spokesman Dave Bristow said Tuesday evening. "I can't really go into the specifics of what we found out, but we keep making progress. We still have a lot of work to do."
Heather Fogarty, a real estate agent from San Diego, donated $100 and offered condolences to the Stephens family. The 46-year-old said she was in complete disbelief after hearing the news of Phedras de Blondel's killing through social media.
"I was hoping it was a rumor," she said. "I just couldn't wrap my head around it at all."
Fogarty, who used to have a business importing and training show jumping horses (and used to compete herself), said she's been hearing of these killings for years, but not to a horse of Phedras de Blondel's caliber.
"It's just sickening, really," Fogarty said. "I just hope that this brings awareness and puts a stop to it."
In Kentucky, 66-year-old Pat Ziemer said he became distraught when he heard the news and grew even more upset when he realized it involved Debbie Stephens. Ziemer makes therapy equipment for performance horses and said Stephens is a customer and dear friend.
"Debbie told me today that she never thought anything like this would happen to her," Ziemer said. "I know how hard she works."
Sherri Fiduccia, who owns Mopar Horse Farm in Monroe, Wis., said the news was devastating.
"I've had horses all my life and, I guess if this was my horse, they would have to lock me up because I feel that the monsters that did this should die the same way that that poor horse did," the 52-year-old said. "I have no remorse for those monsters that did this. ... Somebody out there knows something."For more information on the GoFundMe campaign, go to gofundme.com/centennialfarm.
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.