HARRISBURG - Authorities are conducting autopsies to determine how 925 pigs were left to die in a barn in south-central Pennsylvania - and to decide whether to charge anyone with a crime.
The pigs' carcasses were found in various states of decay last Monday, scattered inside a warehouse-style barn on a farm in Warfordsburg, near the Maryland border.
"We are trying to determine exactly what happened," said State Police Lt. Gregory Bacher, adding that he has never seen an apparent act of animal cruelty of this magnitude in 26 years on the job.
"There are some factors we can't release now."
The farm's owner, Daniel Clark, left the property in August, authorities said, and the pigs appeared to have been dead for several months.
Attempts to reach Clark for comment on Monday were unsuccessful.
His was one of 3,200 pig farms in the state, and specialized in "finishing" young pigs several months old before sending them to slaughter. The pigs, if readied for sale, would have been worth roughly $100,000, based on current market prices.
Clark and his wife, Kerron, had been involved in a contentious divorce, according to local news reports, and until recently their 218-acre farm had been listed for sale for $1.2 million.
News of last week's discovery sent shock waves through the state's large farming community.
"That 1,000 pigs died somehow is a sickening situation on [the] surface. Was it an animal-health issue or a criminal issue?" said Christian Herr, executive vice president of PennAg Industries, an agribusiness trade group. "There's nothing logical about what happened there."
Herr and others say it's not unheard of in cases of foreclosure or mental duress for people to abandon farm animals, but in many cases those animals are in a pasture - so witnesses report the neglect before animals succumb to dehydration or starvation.
In this case, the pigs were trapped in a remote barn.
"These animals were fully at people's mercy," said Gene Baur, president of Farm Sanctuary, a New York-based farm-animal rescue group.
Pigs are "extremely intelligent and sensitive" animals that as "living, feeling creatures deserved to be treated with compassion," Baur said.
Clark's farm was not large enough to merit a water-quality inspection by the Department of Environmental Protection, officials said. Neither was it part of an industry-sponsored quality-assurance program that would have required standards of care and inspections, Herr said.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has sent a team to the site to document and evaluate the evidence, while state Department of Agriculture workers try to dispose of the large number of carcasses.
Dennis Bumbaugh, who works for a local animal shelter, found the carcasses last week after Kerron Clark alerted him.
"I want to see justice for what happened in that building," Bumbaugh said Monday. "I and the ASPCA had our hands on those animals. It's personal."