(BBC) – Police in rural Virginia have released disturbing details about a woman who they say was killed by her two dogs while taking them for a walk last week.
Four days after Bethany Stephens, 22, was found, police held a second press conference to describe her death and refute rumours of foul play.
When deputies found the dogs on Friday they were guarding what police at first thought was an animal carcass.
But the body was Stephens’s, and police say the pit bulls were eating her.
Warning: Some people may find the details below upsetting
“I observed, as well as four other deputy sheriffs observed,” Goochland County Sheriff Jim Agnew said, “the dogs eating the rib cage on the body”.
“The first traumatic injury to her was to her throat and face,” he said.
“It appears she was taken to the ground, lost consciousness, and the dogs then mauled her to death,” he added, pausing several times.
Sheriff Agnew said in Monday’s press conference that he did not want to initially release the graphic detail, out of concern for the victim’s family.
But after rumours began to swirl in the small town 30 miles (48km) outside Richmond, Virginia – and the sheriff was inundated with calls from concerned citizens – he chose to release the information in order to assure the public that there was not a killer on the loose.
Friends had questioned what would have led the pit bulls to kill their owner who had raised them since they were puppies.
One friend told local media that the dogs were gentle. “They’d kill you with kisses,” Barbara Norris told WWBT News.
The two dogs – who have since been put down with the family’s permission – together weighed twice as much as Stephens, who authorities described as “petite” and weighing 100lbs (45kg).
The dogs, named Tonka and Pacman, were found by Stephens’s father after he went looking for her in a wooded area on Friday, one day after she disappeared.
“Ms Stephens was terribly, terribly injured, but it was very apparent to us that she had been dead for quite some time,” Sheriff Agnew told reporters, adding that her bloody clothes were scattered around her corpse.
He added that her body was so badly mauled, and her injuries were “so extensive that there was nothing left to compare bite marks to”.
Authorities say the bite marks on her head match those of the dogs, and that they were not consistent with any other type of wild animal such as a bear.
The dogs’ bodies have been preserved for a post-mortem examination.