Tuskegee, AL (WBMA) - Broken promises and broken hearts. A number of horse owners fear a veterinary student from Alabama sent their beloved animals to slaughter. Fallon Blackwood is a student at Tuskegee University.
"How could you? How dare you do this to so many people in dire straits?" asks Vanessa Vienna. In story after story, horse owners contend they gave Blackwood their animals and she promised to take care of them. Some of the owners were too ill to care for their horses, others faced financial issues or encountered other problems in tending to their animals. Many of the horses were older.
The alleged scheme to defraud horse owners was unraveled by the non-profit Stolen Horse International also known as netposse.com.
Complaints on their website span six states including Alabama. In all, 52 horses, a mule, donkey and two goats were reported to have been given to veterinary student Fallon Blackwood. Seven alleged victims are reported in Alabama involving ten horses.
Heather Manchester's horse Ranger was supposed to be a pasture mate for Blackwood's other horses. But when Manchester started asking for pictures she tells us, Blackwood kept putting her off.
"I called her, texted her and got nothing. I went to the address she had given me and it was a false address," explains Manchester. She says she wanted to re-home Ranger because he had a "nasty buck" and wasn't suitable for riding.
She and other former horse owners fear their horses have been sent to slaughter-killed for their meat and sold in several countries where horse meat is consumed by people.
Like the others Sarah Warren says Blackwood contacted her through Facebook after she posted about looking for a new home for her horse. Warren could no longer care for her older horses. "On paper everything seemed perfect," explains Warren. Blackwood told families she was a third year veterinary student at Tuskegee. "That was a major selling point," recalls Warren.
Vanessa Vienna says she was deceived as well. A woman she was helping care for in Vincent, AL had suffered a stroke. They needed a home for her horses and a mule. She showed us messages from Blackwood.
"As they pulled off I looked in her eyes and asked, you're not going to sell them or harm them? And she dropped her eyes," recalls Vienna. She now wishes she had followed her gut instinct that something was not quite right.
ABC3340 News went by the Blount County property where Blackwood was known to keep horses. No one was around. Last October Blackwood was indicted on thirteen counts of intent to defraud by bringing horses into Alabama from out of state. Blackwood plead not guilty earlier this month. Her attorney declined to comment when we spoke with him by phone.
"She should go to jail and never be entrusted with an animal. It hurt so bad; it was such a gut punch," says Vienna. Now victims in the alleged fraud scheme are asking why Blackwood is still a vet student at the Tuskegee campus and will she be allowed to graduate? Tuskegee University administrators did not return our calls or answer emails.
District Attorney Pamela Casey refused to respond to our questions.
If you're selling a horse or looking for a new home for your animal experts advise you to visit the potential owner's property, sign a notarized contract, and have a way to identify your horse such as having it micro-chipped.