The Horse Killers

Bored and angry, a group of kids in a small East Texas town took out their hostility on a horse, whose violent death shocked the world.

THE HORSE WAS A FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD sorrel gelding with a blaze face. As it lay there in the bloodstained meadow, with its right eye gone milky and its rear covered with gashes, the softness of its coat remained unmarred, its hindquarters still rippled, and above its sturdy back, its long mane hung in an insouciant tease. Its legs still suggested power and grace, war and play. Even beaten to death, the horse looked strangely indomitable.

Its registered name was Mister Wilson Boy, and in earlier years it had been a prizewinning cutting horse. Of late its knees had become arthritic, and so the horse had passed its final days in a ten-acre pasture just west of the East Texas town of Silsbee. Both the pasture and the horse were owned by Silsbee High School football coach Charlie Woodard, an even-tempered 53-year-old man who taught Sunday school at the First Methodist Church. Woodard was that rare Texas football coach who was more interested in the lives of the boys who played the game than in the game’s outcome. He loved children, and one way he showed this was by frequently letting them ride Mister Wilson Boy around his pasture. Woodard trusted his horse around children, and children around his horse—until the morning of Monday, September 18, 1995, when he was informed that the brutes who had clubbed his horse to death four days earlier were seven boys and one girl, ranging in age from eight to fourteen.

The revelation shocked and disturbed Coach Woodard—“It ruins my faith in humanity,” he told a friend. The owner’s reaction turned out to be the tamest on record. From all over America, letters seething with revulsion and vindictiveness poured in to the Hardin County courthouse: “What horrible children we are raising in this country.” “They are our future Mansons, Gacys, and other perverts. Do not allow them back into society.” “I believe

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