Eight horses owned by a gay man were killed in a barn fire in Ohio on Monday in what police believe was a homophobic hate crime.

Brent Whitehouse was at home in the town of McConnelsville when he saw an orange glow in his garden. Rushing outside, he witnessed flames shooting up through the roof of the barn where he kept his horses. “It was gone in five minutes” he told the Zanesville Times Recorder.

The heat from the flames was so intense that the chassis of a tractor inside the barn melted. Yet despite the destruction, spay-painted slogans saying “fags are freaks” and “burn in hell” were still visible on the remaining walls.

As the fire marshals declared the blaze to have been arson, the slogans were enough for police to launch an investigation into whether or not a hate crime had been committed.

Mr Whitehouse had eight horses, including a foal. He said: “The barn I can rebuild, but the bond I had with those horses can’t be replaced.

“Whoever did this had to walk right by all those horses, including the baby, and didn’t care that they were killing a gentle, loving animal.

“I just don’t understand someone wanting to kill innocent animals. It’s like killing a child.”

Of the messages he said: “They were just hateful.”

A reward of $5,000 has been put up in the hope that anyone with information regarding the fire will come forward.