PALMETTO, Fla. - A brutal case of animal cruelty left a Manatee County farming community on edge on Tuesday.
According to deputies, unknown suspects forced their way through a locked gate on the victim’s property within the 5800 block of Buckeye Road in Palmetto. They said a thoroughbred horse was taken sometime between 5 p.m. Sunday and 8 a.m. Monday.
Deputies said they helped the victim search the surrounding area and found the horse dead and slaughtered for its meat in a nearby field.
"[The criminals] seemed to know exactly what they wanted and they targeted this large, thoroughbred-type horse," said Randy Warren, a spokesperson for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. "We really don't know whether somebody is doing this to consume this meat, as horrible as that sounds, for themselves, or whether they're selling it."
No suspects have been identified as of Tuesday morning.
Several neighbors also own livestock, including Scott Nettleman, who owns five horses.
"If I came out and my old mare was gone, I would be in a panic and it would be like losing a family member," Nettleman said. "I've watched that guy come over and take care of his horses. He's got beautiful horses over there and it's tough to hear that somebody came in and took one."
A similar case happened in Manatee County in 2015, when a thoroughbred horse was found butchered for its meat. Detectives never made an arrest.
Last week, criminals in Ocala did the same thing to a horse there.
"There's reason to believe that this is very similar in the way that they're going about it, what they're looking for," Warren said. "We're talking with some other counties and seeing incidents that have happened there and trying to see if there's anything that we can connect into what's happened here just the other day."
Nettleman believes there's a reason criminals are targeting these types of horses.
"They're looking at how much meat they can get off of it on the black market," he said.
The sheriff's office is urging horse owners to take precautions by locking up their animals safely secured and using surveillance cameras on their property.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office at 941-747-3011 or Crime Stoppers of Manatee County at 866-634-8477.