US woman mauled to death by her two pit bulls: Police

The 22-year-old woman had defensive wounds on her hands and arms and the two pit bulls were seen eating the rib cage on the body, police said

world Updated: Dec 20, 2017 12:41 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Dog attack,pit bulls attack owner,Virginia dog attack
Bethany Lynn Stephens,22, was mauled by her two pit bulls while on a walk in the woods, police said(Facebook photo)

Authorities in the US state of Virginia have said a 22-year-old woman was mauled to death by her two dogs while out on a walk last week amid rumours that someone else killed her, reports have said.

Goochland County sheriff Jim Agnew held a press conference on Monday, four days after Bethany Lynn Stephens’ body was found from the wooded area she frequented, to quell rumours and widespread misinformation of foul play on social media.

Agnew said he decided to disclose the gruesome details about Stephens’ death, which he had been reluctant to divulge out of concern for her family, to reassure people that there isn’t a killer on the loose.

I observed, as well as four other deputy sheriffs observed, the dogs eating the rib cage on the body” --- Jim Agnew, Goochland County sheriff

The sheriff said that when officials found the dogs on Friday they were guarding what police at first thought was an animal carcass. But the body was Stephens’ and police say the pit bulls were eating her, he said.

“I observed, as well as four other deputy sheriffs observed, the dogs eating the rib cage on the body,” Agnew was quoted as saying by the Washington Post.

The dogs, named Tonka and Pacman, were first found by Stephens’ father after he went looking for her in a wooded area on Friday, one day after she disappeared. They have since been put down with the family’s permission.

“Ms Stephens was terribly, terribly injured, but it was very apparent to us that she had been dead for quite some time,” Agnew told reporters, adding later that the damage to her body “was so extensive that there was nothing left to compare bite marks to.”

Stephens’ friends have questioned the reason behind the pit bulls attacking their owner, who had raised them since they were puppies. One friend told local media that the dogs were gentle.

“They’d kill you with kisses,” Barbara Norris told WWBT News.

The two dogs together weighed twice as much as Stephens, who authorities described as “petite” and weighing 45kg.

He told The Washington Post earlier that investigators don’t suspect foul play and that evidence recovered from the scene, including defensive wounds on her hands and arms, showed that the dogs were responsible for her death.

Investigators have also looked into statements from other witnesses, including the possibility that Stephens was killed by someone or something else and that the dogs were trying to protect her. But investigators have ruled out those possibilities. Agnew said at least one of the dogs had a significant amount of blood on its collar and neck.

“Now, having said that, we are still following up on those. We’re still doing some forensic tests. We’re still doing interviews,” Agnew said. “But . . . from the evidence that we observed, from the evidence that we collected, that narrative doesn’t fit.”

Authorities said the bite marks on Stephens, including the ones on her skull, were consistent with canine marks. Agnew said if she had been attacked by a bigger animal, such as a bear, the bites would have punctured her skull.

“Nothing that said domestic violence. Nothing that said she was stabbed. Nothing that said she was shot. No bones, no injuries to the throat area . . . There was no particular bleeding inside the oesophagus, which would’ve been conducive with choking her out. None of that,” an investigator with the sheriff’s office, Shawn Whitlock, told reporters.

There is also no evidence that she had been sexually assaulted, authorities said.

Agnew said Stephens’ family is convinced with the findings of the investigators.

“They are devastated. They are worn out. They are dealing with trying to piece everything together and filtering out the misinformation. They wish to remain private, and it’s been very difficult on them,” Agnew said.

First Published: Dec 20, 2017 11:21 IST