Mauled by dogs: Sheriff offers gruesome details to end speculation

Posted at 4:41 PM, Dec 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-18 20:30:52-05

GOOCHLAND, Va. – Goochland County Sheriff James Agnew answered numerous questions surrounding the gruesome death of 22-year-old Glen Allen woman Bethany Lynn Stephens; mauled by her pet dogs who were euthanized shortly after the attack.

Stephens’ body was discovered by her fatherThursday evening in a wooded area of Goochland. Agnew previously made several statements that he cleared up on Monday,  after an avalanche of phone calls and social media.

He offered details not previously released after a long discussion with Stephens’ family.

“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 the 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,” Agnew said.

He said they made the decision to capture them instead of shoot them.

No foul play expected

There was a person considered to be a threat to Stephens, though Agnew emphasized that he does not think her death was foul play. He also previously said that there were no strangulation marks on her body.

“We had a number of witnesses came 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,” Agnew said of the numerous claims that foul play was involved. “Having said that, we are still following up on those; we are still doing forensic tests.”

He again referenced the bloody scene that law enforcement discovered, and deferred to the expertise of the medical examiner.

“There was no evidence of any larger animal there,” Agnew said in response to the widespread belief that perhaps Stephens was attacked by a wild animal, possibly a coyote or bear.

“The medical examiner…made it pretty clear that it was not a large animal, because the bite wounds didn’t puncture her skull,” Agnew said. “There were also scratch marks consistent with a smaller animal than something like a bear.”

The medical examiner also concluded with “complete certainty that there was no sexual assault involved.”

A man who used to work with Stephens at a dog training facility said she was very experienced working with animals, and loved her dogs.

Although Dr. Amy Learn, a veterinarian at Cary Street Veterinary Hospital, did not know Stephens or her dogs, she said that "dogs don't typically just out of the blue attack their owners, so there is typically some kind of provocation."

Everyone has said the dogs were socialized, passive and had a significant bond with Stephens.

Sergeant Mike Blackwood said that multiple police departments contacted their office over the weekend to share information on similar attacks.

He offered background and said the dogs were a “little bit neglected towards the end of this.” Stephens left the dogs with her father, and Blackwood said; “he wasn’t taking care of them – it wasn’t his responsibility.”

The dogs, who were indoor dogs, were moved out to the kennel where they stayed "in the cold."  Blackwood said that with Stephens coming home maybe five times a week, the dogs became more isolated and only had contact with each other.

“We did hear from the medical examiner that Ms. Stephens was in her menstrual period,” Agnew said when asked, but he emphasized he doesn’t think “there is anyway definitively that we can say what caused the attack.

Toxicology report underway

The sheriff recommended that the dogs be put down and the family gave their permission. The dogs were euthanized at 11 a.m. Saturday. The animals are being preserved and the Attorney General’s office has offered to help them find a lab to run toxicology on the animals.

The toxicology report on Stephens will be complete in about 90 days.

“What I observed personally, it was in the community’s best interest,” Agnew said. “Once a dog tastes human flesh it is not safe to have that dog around humans.”

“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,” Agnew said. “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.”

Agnew did clarify his initial statement that the animals were “bred for fighting” and said that a friend originally told them the dogs were rescued from an organization that rehabilitated dogs previously used for fighting.

He said their organization opted for more transparency at Monday’s press conference “because the narrative on social media was so far off the mark.”

“The family is devastated, they are worn out,” Agnew said. “They are dealing with trying to piece everything together…they wish to remain private.”