A veterinary student in Alabama is suspected of offering shelter for rescue horses but then secretly selling the animals for slaughter in Mexico instead.
Fallon Danielle Blackwood, 24, was arrested on Saturday by Blount County deputies on charges of bringing property into the state that was obtained under false pretense, authorities told HuffPost.
Her arrest, reportedly at a local rodeo, follows her indictment on 13 counts in October and her arrest on a similar charge last year in North Carolina, according to Fox 5 Atlanta.
Though the charges concern 13 horses, Stolen Horse International, a nonprofit that helps find lost or stolen horses, has said Blackwood may be behind the disappearance of dozens more.
According to some of her alleged victims, Blackwood would reach out to those in need of help caring for their horses and offer them a loving home at her farm near Boaz, Alabama.
Lindsay Rosentrater, a Georgia resident, said Blackwood reached out within 24 hours of her posting an ad online that requested help caring for her aging 15-year-old horse named Willie.
“I posted an ad to my personal Facebook page, horse related Facebook groups and Craigslist. My ad was titled: ‘ISO Forever Loving Home For Sweet Retired Appendix Gelding,’” Rosentrater told The Birmingham News.
Rosentrater said Blackwood identified herself as a veterinary student at Tuskegee University and said she was looking for another horse to keep her own horse company. She offered to travel to Georgia so they could meet.
Rosentrater said she thought the first encounter would be a mere meet and greet. Instead, Blackwood pulled up with a horse trailer and insisted that she take Willie that day. Though Rosentrater initially wavered, she ultimately agreed.
The horse “started screaming for me down the road. I just sat in the barn and cried,’’ Rosentrater recalled.
Eventually, Rosentrater said Blackwood stopped responding to her calls and texts seeking information on Willie. She also ignored an offer by Rosentrater to buy her beloved horse back after suspecting something was wrong.
According to Tuskegee University’s website and LinkedIn page, Blackwood is on track to graduate this year from the veterinary school. A spokesperson for the university declined to comment on her enrollment status in an email to HuffPost on Wednesday.
Blackwood did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to advocacy group the Horse Fund, smuggling horses across the U.S. border to Mexico for slaughter is a common practice. Dealers known as “kill buyers” act as middlemen for slaughterhouses, who purchase the horses and then transport them to Mexico.
Lisa Rudolph told Fox 5 Atlanta that in the summer of 2017 she gave Blackwood a horse named Cocoa and a mini-mule called Tibby with the agreement that she would take them back after she finished moving from Georgia to Florida. Rudolph completed her move, but never saw Cocoa or Tibby again.
“They suffered a death that they didn’t deserve and I think it was slaughter,” Rudolph told the station.
Rosentrater, who created a Facebook page for her lost horse, Willie, on Sunday shared her “joy, anger, sadness” upon learning about Blackwood’s arrest.
“I am reminded that it will be a year on January 28th that Fallon drove off with Willie promising to give him a forever home,” Rosentrater wrote on her Facebook page. “She broke contract and took Willie under false pretense. That rainy, miserable day that he screamed out for me from the trailer is burned into my memory forever.”
Stolen Horse International, which also goes by the name NetPosse, said it has heard of at least 33 people with reports of missing animals connected to Blackwood. Those animals include 51 horses and two goats, it said in a press release last year.
“Many of the owners had contracts signed by Ms. Blackwood stating that she would not [sell] the horses, send them to an auction, kill pen or slaughter and would return them to the owner if she was unable to continue to care for the horses,” the release said.