MAGNA — Police are investigating the death of 10 horses in Magna.
A neighbor called animal control Friday after finding the horses in a field near the Pleasant Green Cemetery, 9200 W. 3500 South, according to the Unified Police Department. Animal control then contacted UPD to investigate the incident.
Officers found 11 horses at the scene, 10 of which were dead. The 11th horse was returned to its owner to be hydrated and was reportedly improving as of Friday night, according to investigators.
A water container was located in the pasture but was empty, said Unified police detective Ken Hansen.
"What we've determined is there doesn't appear to be any water here for them, so our first inclination is that its lack of water that is the problem," Hansen said.
He said the horses were found in an area that is fenced in and encompasses "numerous" acres. Investigators do not know how long the horses were there.
It is also still unclear whether the horses got out of a different enclosed area or were placed in the field intentionally, police said. Investigators were originally told there were 20 horses in the area, so they are still searching for more.
A mounted sheriff's posse returned to the pasture Friday night to continue the search.
The incident is being treated as a criminal investigation, according to Hansen.
To have this many horses die at one time — there is certainly one thing that is causing that.
"To have this many horses die at one time — there is certainly one thing that is causing that," he said.
Salt Lake County Animal Services is heading the investigation into the horses' deaths. Director Mike Reburg said potential misdemeanor or felony charges could be filed depending on what investigators learn.
"It's really preliminary in terms of what the cause is and who may be at fault. That's what we need to work on in the coming days," Reburg said. "It's horrific what happened here."
The horses' owner reported he had driven past the field Tuesday and seeing them standing in the pasture didn't stop, Reburg said.
Magna resident James Burdett and his uncle Dennis Morgan reported the horses to Unified police. They went to investigate when they "smelled death" and saw vultures in the field.
"Two days ago we smelled an odor of something foul and dead," said Burdett, who lives in a neighborhood near the field.
He couldn't see anything from his home at the time but eventually went looking and found the animals.
Burdett said he has also spoken to a representative from the Humane Society of Utah, who reported she knows the owners and contacted them.
"I haven't seen him, and like I said, there isn't water in any water troughs at all," said Burdett, who estimates up to 20 horses have been in the pasture before. "There could be more horses out there."
Burdett and Morgan witnessed two horses die Friday. The saddest part of the day, Burdett said, was that "this didn't need to happen."
"Poor animals just suffered and just died right there in front of us," Morgan said. "It's really heart-wrenching when you see these horses just struggling just for their last few moments of life and then falling down and dying."
Contributing: Paul Nelson and Andrew Adams