22-year-old woman found mauled to death in the woods by her own pitbulls
22-year-old Bethany Stephens was very good with animals, according to family and friends. Her pit bulls were said to be passive, friendly, and sharing a significant bond with her, but appear to have mauled her to death in the most mysterious of circumstances.
The body of 22-year-old Bethany Lynn Stephens was discovered just after 8:15 pm last Thursday in a remote area in the 2200 block of Manakin Road in Goochland County. Her body was being aggressively guarded by her two pit bulls, with the Goochland Sheriff's Office initially speculating that she had been mauled to death by the dogs.
According to nbc12, Stephens' father, John, had called 911 informing them that he hadn't seen his daughter in nearly two days. He then went to look for her where she frequently walked her dogs in the woods and thought that she was simply injured when he first spotted her. A closer inspection revealed that she was dead, with Goochland County Sheriff James L. Agnew terming the scene as 'grisly.'
He was quoted saying: "The female had suffered severe trauma and was being guarded, for lack of a better word, by two very large, brindle colored pit bull dogs who were very reluctant to be caught," adding that he suspected they were bred for fighting.
Initial medical reports from the medical examiner's office said that Stephens, measuring in at 5-foot-1 and 125 pounds, had a cause of death 'consistent with being mauled by these dogs.' She also had defensive wounds on her hands and arms, giving rise to the suspicion that she was alive when she was attacked by the animals. Her wounds included puncture wounds to the skull, which is a sign consistent with mauling.
Agnew said: "The first traumatic injury was to her throat and face. It appears she was taken to the ground, lost consciousness, and the dogs then mauled her to death. It was an absolutely grisly mauling. In my 40 years in law enforcement, I've never seen anything quite like it. I hope I never see anything like it again," adding that he did not think it was a homicide as there were no strangulation marks on her body.
Because the dogs were large and almost weighed as much as Stephens herself, Agnew said it took his deputies hours to restrain them. Henrico County Animal Control had to be called for assistance and to provide tranquilizers to subdue the dogs, and the scene was said to be littered with blood and pieces of clothing. The authorities then spent more than eight hours collecting over 60 pieces of evidence.
"There were various articles of clothing, underclothing scattered about the area, not far from the body and torn into small pieces. There were patches of blood,” Sheriff Agnew said.
Stephens' friend, Barbara Norris, refused to believe that her friend had been killed by her own dogs, telling nbc12 that they slept in bed with her at night. She was quoted saying: "These dogs would not attack her. They'd kill you with kisses." She also said that the dogs' kennels appeared to have been broken open as if they had escaped to help Stephens, adding that the wounds on her hands, face, and throat were probably from protecting her.
A man who used to work with Stephens at a dog training facility told she was very experienced working with animals, and loved her dogs, with friends and family reaffirming that the dogs were 'friendly, passive, and had a significant bond with Stephens.' A veterinary expert also said that dogs don't typically attack their owners out of the blue without some kind of provocation.
However, the notion that the pit bulls were not responsible for Stephens' death was put to rest once and for all by Agnew, who told Pix 11: "Let me cut right to the chase, the most important detail that we did not release because we were worried about the well-being of the family is that in the course of trying to capture the dogs early Friday morning...we turned and looked…I observed, as well as four other deputy sheriffs, the dogs eating the ribcage on the body. The injuries were very severe."
While speculation was strife in Stephens' small community that foul play may have been involved in her death, Agnew lay rest to those rumors as well. He said: "We had a number of witnesses come forward and we were able to put a time frame together and people’s movements together and they don’t fit with that particular narrative."
When asked if it was possible she was attacked by a bear or a coyote, he said: "There was no evidence of any larger animal there. The medical examiner … made it pretty clear that it was not a large animal because the bite wounds didn’t puncture her skull. There were also scratch marks consistent with a smaller animal than something like a bear," adding that it was concluded with complete certainty there was no sexual assault involved.
Talking about pit bulls, Agnew said: "Since this has happened, I spent a significant amount of time researching attacks by dogs of this sort and while it is not an everyday occurrence, it is not rare and it happens with some frequency in this country. I don’t want to disparage any particular breed but if you do the research you will find that many of them are perpetuated by pit bulls."
The dogs were being held at Goochland County Animal Control, with Agnew suggesting that they were seeking to have the animals euthanized; a deed which was reported to have been completed with the family's consent at 11 am last Saturday. Regarding the decision, Agnew told Pix 11: "What I observed personally, it was in the community’s best interest. Once a dog tastes human flesh it is not safe to have that dog around humans."
The dogs are being preserved and the attorney general's office has offered to help them find a lab to run toxicology reports on the animals. That report is expected to be complete in another 90 days.
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