Suspect ID’d in barn fire that killed therapy horses

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Authorities say they have a suspect in the barn fire near Lowell that killed more than a dozen therapy horses.

Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker says Payton Mellema, 20, is the main suspect. He does not currently face any charges in connection to the fire.

He was booked into the Kent County jail Monday on a probation violation, online records show.

The fire broke out in the early hours of April 8 at The Barn for Equine Learning off Timpson Avenue in Lowell Township, killing 13 horses used in therapy for kids overcoming trauma and abuse. Investigators started the calling the fire suspicious right away, though they have not yet said how they think it started. The barn owner said the doors were locked from the inside.

The owner of the horse barn, Kat Welton, took out a personal protection order against Mellema shortly after the fire. In it, she said the Mellema often came onto her property carrying a gun and once brought a dead owl to her house. She said he admitted to cutting her pasture fences and being in the barn at night after a horse was found tied to its stall wall with no water and objects in the stall. The horse’s eye was injured a month later.

The PPO says Welton told the Mellema and his father that he could no longer be on her property, but he showed up in February anyway claiming to be lost and asking for permission to  be on the property.

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help The Barn for Equine Learning rebuild.

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