A Virginia community is reeling after 22-year-old Bethany Lynn Stephens was found dead in the woods with brutal injuries.
Stephens often took her dogs for walks in those woods, and when her father hadn't heard from her in two days, he went out looking.
He found her body bloodied and beaten in the wooded area, and her two pit bull dogs were standing guard. Law enforcement in conjunction with the medical examiner have determined the dogs are responsible for their owner's death, but not everyone is convinced.
Goochland County Sheriff James Agnew described the absolutely grisly mauling during a press news conference:
"The victim had defensive wounds on her hands and arms trying to keep the dogs away from her, which would be consistent with being attacked while she was still alive. It appears she was taken to the ground, lost consciousness, and the dogs then mauled her to death."
LIVE: Press conference from sheriff's office on dog mauling caseThe sheriff says the dogs have been euthanized and preserved for evidence >> https://buff.ly/2BJwPMD
Posted by NBC12 on Monday, December 18, 2017
Agnew also said it took officers over an hour to catch the dogs named Pac-Man and Tonka as they guarded the body. Once the dogs were removed, the forensics team spent eight hours collecting evidence. The investigation is ongoing, and the victim's friends say the dogs they knew would never attack and kill their owner, yet there is no evidence of strangulation marks or other signs of assault or murder.
Barbara Norris told NBC 12:
"I know those dogs didn't do it. Those dogs would not attack her. They'd kill you with kisses."
Dog behaviorists, who never knew Stephens or her dogs, also agree that something about the medical examiner's conclusion doesn't add up.
A certified master trainer in Richmond, Virginia, Valerie Paul, told news agencies:
"That's not something I would normally see. If a dog has teeth, it can bite, but to go from a lovable no-bite history dog to one that is causing harm would be fairly rare."
The sheriff's department initially said the dogs were suspected fighting animals. However, the dogs have no history of fighting, and there's no record of them being aggressive. Some animal advocates say the accusation is another way to perpetuate the stereotype that pit bulls are dangerous dogs.
Catherine Brooks, who has two pit bulls of her own, said:
"I've never heard of something like that happening where the dogs would inflict it and then turn around and change their mind on it."
According to Norris, Tonka and Pac-Man typically slept in the same bed as their owner. Stephen's Facebook page is full of pictures of her and her dogs, and she took both of them on walks at least once a week. At the same time, however, reports say Stephens no longer lived with the dogs. They were being kept in an outdoor kennel despite being raised as indoor pets.
While the investigation is ongoing and authorities are waiting on toxicology reports to make their findings official, the dogs have been euthanized. The sheriff's department recommended euthanization to the victim's family, and they agreed.
Sheriff Agnew said during the press conference:
"Once a dog tastes human flesh, it's no longer safe to have that dog around humans."
Tonka and Pac-Man were euthanized Saturday morning, but Norris and others who believe in their innocence are still planning to make their voices heard. The dogs' bodies are currently being preserved as evidence. They'll be used for potential forensic analysis as more information emerges.
Do think the dogs mauled their owner? Let us know in the comments.
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