Home News ‘Horseman of the Year’ Killed Horse While Shooting at Son, Authorities Say

‘Horseman of the Year’ Killed Horse While Shooting at Son, Authorities Say

‘Horseman of the Year’ Killed Horse While Shooting at Son, Authorities Say

A North Carolina man who was recently inducted into the Carolinas Show Hunter Hall of Fame tried to shoot one of his sons during an argument on the family farm last week but instead fatally injured the horse that the son was riding, the authorities said on Tuesday.

The son was unharmed, but the horse, which was identified by a family member as a Grand Prix jumper named Franklin’s Tower, had to be euthanized, said John J. Sauve, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office in Polk County, N.C.

The shooting last Wednesday turned the family’s horse farm in Columbus, N.C., into a scene of violence and anguish and shocked residents in Polk County, where the father, John Victor Russell, 75, has been riding and training horses for decades.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” Suzanne Feagan, the son’s former wife, said in an interview, adding that she had witnessed the shooting at the farm. “The whole family is shocked. Obviously angry. Never would we have seen this coming. He must be in a horrible mental state to have done that.”

Mr. Russell is the patriarch of an extended family of equestrians. In 2021, the Tryon International Equestrian Center & Resort in Mill Spring, N.C., featured him on its website as a “local legend” whose family “has built quite the beloved name for themselves in our community.”

Just last month, Mr. Russell was inducted into the Carolinas Show Hunter Hall of Fame and given the group’s “Horseman of the Year” award, according to the group’s Facebook page, which features a picture of him receiving a scroll on a silver platter.

Credit…Polk County Sheriff’s Office

On Wednesday, Polk County deputies responded to a report of multiple shots fired at Mr. Russell’s farm, Ly-Nard Hills Farms, in Columbus, N.C., Mr. Sauve said.

Deputies found several people on the farm and determined that Mr. Russell and one of his sons, who is also a horse trainer and rider, had been arguing, although it was not clear why, Mr. Sauve said.

The elder Mr. Russell retrieved a firearm and shot at the son while the son was on horseback, Mr. Sauve said. The son was unharmed, but the horse was struck and had to be euthanized, he said.

Mr. Russell was charged with assault on a person with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill and felony animal cruelty causing the death of an animal, Mr. Sauve said.

Mr. Russell, who is known as Vick, was released on $90,000 bond, Mr. Sauve said. He plans to plead not guilty when he appears in court on July 19, according to one of his lawyers, Jennifer Labbe.

“I have known Vick Russell for many years, and he loves his children and horses, and this was a tragic accident,” Ms. Labbe said, adding, “the gun could have accidentally gone off.”

Ms. Feagan, the son’s former wife, said she had been at the farm that day mowing fields, and had seen the shooting.

“I walked out of the barn and saw Vick pull up in his truck and he had a gun,” Ms. Feagan said in an interview on Tuesday. She said she had gone back into the barn and heard “a bunch of shouting and carrying on.” She looked out of a stall and “saw Vick shooting” at his son, who was on horseback.

She said the elder Mr. Russell was “a father who we’ve all loved and revered for so long,” but that he was “not taking care of himself” as he got older.

The son declined to comment on Tuesday. The son’s fiancée, Kristen Cox, said her fiancé was “upset, heartbroken, conflicted, a little traumatized.” At the same time, she said, the family was worried about the elder Mr. Russell.

“We love him and respect him and we’re worried about him now,” she said. “We need to get him the help he needs.”

Kemper Penney, the owner of​ Pennwood Farm, a horse farm near the Russell family farm, described Mr. Russell as a charismatic and popular figure who was “one of the main people” in the local equestrian community before it began attracting wealthier people from Europe and other places.

“I just think it’s really hard on all of their family and grandchildren, and I feel really badly for them,” Ms. Penney said. “I can’t imagine how you could make an excuse for what happened.”

Susan C. Beachy contributed reporting.


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