After a Virginia woman was found dead in the woods last week, apparently mauled to death by her own dogs, a friend and a veterinarian are urging police to find out whether there is more to the story.
Bethany Stephens, 22, was found by her father Thursday night in a wooded area in Goochland, where she often took her two pit bulls out for a stroll, according to Richmond.com. That’s when he said he found the two dogs “guarding” the body of his daughter, who police say was mauled and killed by the pets.
Stephens suffered wounds to her face, throat and hands. Her skull was punctured. The bloody scene was littered with her shredded clothing, and police bagged 60 items of evidence.
“It appeared the attack was a violent attack initiated by the victims’ dogs while the victim was out for a walk with the dogs,” said James Agnew, the sheriff in Goochland County. “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.”
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However, Amy Learn, a veterinarian at Cary Street Veterinary Hospital in Richmond, believes many questions still need to be answered, according to a CBS-6 report.
“I think the investigation needs to be ongoing,” Learn said. “Dogs don’t typically just out of the blue attack their owners, so there is typically some kind of provocation.”
She said that provocation causes fear, which can cause aggression. But she wonders whether there is more to the story.
“Was there somebody else there? Were they being attacked by somebody, were they trying to defend themselves and their owner from somebody else, from a wild animal? Was it actually something else that attacked the owner? Were there stray dogs, coyotes [or] something else in the woods?” Learn asked.
Learn did not know Stephens or her dogs.
And Barbara Norris, who says she was best friends with Stephens, says the dogs she knew would never turn on her friend, according to an NBC-12 report. She says story doesn’t add up.
“Those dogs would not attack her,” said Norris. “They’d kill you with kisses.”
Norris says the dogs even slept in bed with Stephens at night.
“The wounds on her hands, face and throat were probably from them protecting her,” Norris said.
She says she’s going to do whatever it takes to make sure investigators have exhausted all possibilities.
“When she takes them for walks, she comes right back. When we looked at the kennels, they looked like they had been broken open and went to go help her.”
But Sheriff Agnew described the dogs as large and powerful pit bulls that might have been bred for dog fighting.
“It was an absolutely grisly mauling,” Agnew said. “In my 40 years of law enforcement I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I hope I never see anything like it again.”
It took eight hours for deputies to collect evidence, Richmond.com reported. And according to WIRC, it also took some time for animal control to tranquilize the two pit bulls, who weighed between 100 and 120 pounds.
For reference, Agnew said Stephens is “petite” and weighed around 125 pounds.
There were no signs of strangulation, leading Agnew to say Stephens probably wasn’t killed in a homicide, according to WTVR.
The dogs were captured, and authorities will pursue euthanization.
McClatchy’s Josh Magness contributed to this report.