Bethany Lynn Stephens was killed by her two dogs last week, but Goochland County Sheriff James Agnew released disturbing details of the incident Monday to squelch rumors that Stephens had been killed by a person or a larger animal, such as a bear, KTLA Channel 5 reports.
Many people following this story online said they find it hard to believe her dogs would commit such a tragedy.
"Ms. Stephens was terribly, terribly injured, but it was very apparent to us that she had been dead for quite some time", Agnew told reporters, adding later that the damage to her body "was so extensive that there was nothing left to compare bite marks to".
Sheriff's deputies then collected more than 60 pieces of evidence from the scene of Stephens' death, which was covered with blood and shredded pieces of her clothing. "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 was very clear the woman in the woods had suffered severe injuries consistent with being mauled by these dogs", Agnew said.
"That's not something I would normally see", she said.
The dogs are being held at Goochland County Animal Control.
Stephens' friend Barbara Norris was among those who weren't convinced by authorities' account of her death, saying the dogs, which Stephens had been raising since they were puppies, would never turn on her, ABC affiliate WRIC reported. "I can't tell you if it was a blunt force or if it was a mauling, but I know those dogs didn't do it", Norris said. A Change.org petition started by Norris on the dogs' behalf has already racked up thousands of signatures. Agnew said they were seeking to have the animals euthanized. "And I observed, along with four other deputy sheriffs observed, the dog eating the rib cage on the body".
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Stephens' family agreed to let the sheriff reveal the new details in hopes that everyone - including those who speculate she was killed another way - would understand what happened.
The two dogs together weighed twice as much as Stephens, who authorities described as "petite" and weighing 45kg.
Sheriff Agnew said once that takes place it will be about two weeks before results are available and there could potentially be more answers as to what may have happened.
Everyone has said the dogs were socialized, passive and had a significant bond with Stephens.
However, police are still investigating and are carrying out forensic tests.
Agnew said Stephens' family is convinced with the findings of the investigators.
A veterinarian from Richmond, Va., Amy Learn, told WTVR that "dogs don't typically just out of the blue attack their owners". "Once a dog tastes human flesh, it's no longer safe to have that dog around humans". The report is expected to be complete in 90 days.