Sheriff: Dogs ate owner after mauling her to death

Dogs euthanized after mauling owner to death
Published: Dec. 18, 2017 at 8:47 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 19, 2017 at 12:40 PM EST
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GOOCHLAND, VA (WWBT) - The Goochland Sheriff's Office says two dogs have been euthanized after they say a woman was found mauled to death in a wooded area on Thursday.

Bethany Lynn Stephens, 22, was discovered just after 8:15 p.m. Thursday in a remote area in the 2200 block of Manakin Road in Goochland County by her father.

On Monday, Sheriff Jim Agnew called a late press conference telling the journalists he wants to be completely transparent in the case. He said he had a blessing from Stephens' family to release new details about the case.

In an unprecedented move, Sheriff Agnew showed the journalists photos from the scene taken the night Stephens' body was discovered. They said the dogs would not let anybody get close to her.

"While we were thinking about strategies to catch the dogs, we had turned and looked, the dogs had gone back over to the body," says Sheriff Agnew. "And I observed, along with four other deputy sheriffs observed, the dog eating the rib cage on the body. We were able to shoo them away."

Agnew says they were able to capture the dogs when a friend of Stephens called the animals.

He says one of the dogs had blood on its fur. Photos shows the young woman's dozens of pieces of shredded clothing that were scattered over a large area. It was near a large pool of blood. Her body was found a few feet away in the woods.

Stephens had extensive injuries to her chest, arms and face. NBC12 asked if the bite marks were consistent with dogs or a bigger animal.

"The medical examiner in his preliminary talk with our deputies made it pretty clear that it was not a large animal, because the bite wounds on her head did not penetrate her skull," says Sheriff Agnew.

Detectives say all of her injuries were consistent with bite marks from dogs.

"They did a CAT scan x-ray of her body before they even did the autopsy," says investigator Shawn Whitlock. "And there was nothing that said domestic violence. Nothing that said she was stabbed. Nothing that said she was shot. No bones broken. No injuries to the throat area."

The dogs were euthanized on Saturday. It was something suggested by the sheriff's office, who says they had support from the family.

"I think it was in the best interest of our community and for public safety to do that," says Sheriff Agnew. "Once a dog tastes human flesh, it's no longer safe to have that dog around humans."

Investigators are also giving insight in the state of the dogs prior to Stephens' death.

"The dogs were a little bit neglected towards the end," says Sergeant Mike Blackwood.

He says the dogs were staying on the father's property, but Stephens did not live there full time. He says the animals were kept outside in the cold.

"She would come home maybe five times to her father's house a week on average and take the dogs out," says Blackwood. "And they became more isolated where the only contact they had was with each other and it was less and less human contact."

Friends say Stephens raised the dogs most of their lives. Both loved ones and the sheriff's office confirm these were not fighting dogs.

Investigators say they are looking into alleged threats made on Stephens' life before her death, but they do not suspect foul play. They stress this investigation is not closed.

"From what we found on the scene, from the evidence we observed, the evidence we collected, that narrative doesn't fit," Agnew said.

The sheriff is looking for someone to conduct a necropsy on both animals and they say they also need to someone to analyze the dog's waste. A toxicology test is also going to be done on Stephens.

The sheriff says he hopes putting out this information will stop a lot of the misinformation out there - especially on social media. He says the family is having a difficult time.

"They are devastated," he said. "They are worn out. They are dealing with trying to piece everything together and filtering out the misinformation. They wish to remain private."

The Richmond SPCA released the following statement on the tragic death:

"The Board and staff of the Richmond SPCA are deeply saddened by the news of the tragic death of Bethany Stephens. Our hearts are with her family and we extend our sincere condolences to them. Every tragedy that results in the loss of life is unique and should not be the occasion to make broad generalizations about groups, whether they be groups of people or of animals. Every dog is an individual and circumstances vary in every tragic instance," said Robin Robertson Starr, Chief Executive Officer of the Richmond SPCA.

"The term "pit bull" is a vague one and often it is used based on nothing but the perception of unspecific physical characteristics which are highly subjective in nature. There are many dogs that may be identified as being of the "pit bull" type that are wonderful and loving family pets. We support the investigative work of law enforcement agencies, and we also urge our community not to take a tragedy as an occasion to make unwarranted and unfounded generalizations about types of dogs. Every dog, just like every person, is an individual."

The organization says its supports "the investigative work of law enforcement agencies" in the case.

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