EAST MARLBOROUGH >> Who would shoot a 20-year-old horse who was tied to a stall 130 times at close range with a paintball gun?

Officials at first believed it was kids, but the person or person who shot up Lily the horse in March at the New Holland Sales Stables in Lancaster County was never found.

But Lily certainly discovered that although humans can be cruel and mean, they can also be caring and compassionate. After the story broke, Lily captured the hearts of many in the nation. She received treatment at a world-class animal facility in East Marlborough, got a private pasture to roam with a mate, and was adopted by a television personality, where she received daily massages, baths and lots of hugs.

But her rise to fame and leisure was short-lived, however, when she died from a freak fall a few months back, causing her neck to break.

But in March, the nation was focused on Lily, and several organizations put up big money for information leading to her abuser or abusers arrest and conviction.

“She was in excruciating pain,” Kelly Smith, director of Omega Horse Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Airville said shortly after Lily was pelted. “She was tied up in the sales barn and had welts underneath her skin. Never in 20 years of going to New Holland Auction have I ever seen anything like this.”

The force of the paintballs exploding on the horse was so great, it caused Lily to lose her eye, despite heroic efforts by specialists at New Bolton Center, who worked through the night to stabilize the horse.

Lily was named after the Easter flower by Smith. She was a Appaloosa/Arabian pony mix, small for her breed.

Rose Nolen-Walston, senior New Bolton clinician and associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, said the horse suffered terribly.

“In my 15 years of veterinary medicine, I have never seen anything like this,” she said. “I just can’t imagine how someone could do this. She was in a lot of pain, and she looks like she was hit by a Mack truck. But she is in the best facility in the world to be treated. We have a big team of specialists looking after her.”

It took weeks for Lily to recover, but the experts at New Bolton gave Lily the treatment and medication she needed. Shortly after, she was deemed fit enough to be put up for adoption by the Lancaster County SPCA.

“I have seen a lot of things, but I have never saw someone put a horse in a stall and shoot it 130 times with a paintball gun just for kicks,” said Sue Martin, executive director of the Lancaster County SPCA. “It’s pretty disgusting.”

Right around the time she was being put up for adoption, the Lancaster County district attorney’s office launched an aggressive investigation to nab the person or persons who injured Lily. Many organizations offered rewards for information. People for Ethical Treatment of Animals contributed $10,000 toward the reward; The Humane Society another $5,000 and Omega Horse Rescue, another $1,000.

The district attorney’s investigation led to the arrest of Phillip S. Price, 65, of Rhode Island, who was charged with animal cruelty, handling animals without a license and importing animals without an interstate health certificate. He was not charged, however, with shooting up Lily.

Due to the national exposure Lily generated, Lily was adopted by TV personality Jon Stewart, and his wife, Tracey. They took the horse to their 12-acre Bufflehead Farm in Colts Neck, N.J.

“Lily loved munching on the grass,” Tracey Steward said. “During the day, Lily got massages, baths and lots and lots of hugs. She slept soundly in her barn listening to soft music. Her favorite Pandora channel was Ray Lamontagne.”

The Stewarts took great care of Lily, but her paintball injuries put great strain on her body. In June, the horse died.

“Her bones were very frail,” Stewart said. “She stumbled and fell hard on her neck causing a break. When we knew there was nothing more we could do for her, we covered her in kisses and kind words and said our good-byes. Our hearts are aching as we had so many more fun plans for her. She was beyond special and beyond loved.”

Stewart said she had no regrets adopting Lily, and said she feels comforted she and her husband were able to treat the horse so well in its final days.

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