GOOCHLAND COUNTY, Va. – The necropsies of both Tonka and Pac-Man, the two pit bull terrier dogs that deputies said mauled owner Bethany Lynn Stephens, were completed on Wednesday.
After friends alerted her dad that they hadn't see her, he discovered the 22-year-old Glen Allen woman in the woods off Manakin Road, the night of Dec. 14; the dogs were found nearby. Goochland County Sheriff James Agnew, who released photos and details of the grisly discovery to journalists, said that deputies witnessed the animals eating at Stephens’ rib cage. Her body was dismembered, and she was found completely naked except for one boot.
The two brindled pit bull brothers were from the same litter, born about two and a half years ago. They were euthanized as a safety precaution to the community, the sheriff said, and with the family's consent.
The results of the necropsies will also be sent to a lab for further testing. The sheriff said that some long, wavy hairs consistent with human hair were found in feces and the lab will confirm that discovery.
Sheriff releases more background info on dog
Though the dogs were both born in 2015, Stephens first adopted Tonka as a puppy. Tonka was neutered and chipped. About a year later she adopted Pac-Man, after he was handed off between other owners; several times in a short period.
Pac-Man was not neutered, and his first owner said she gave him to a friend after he snapped at her while pregnant. That friend lost his home so he gave him to another friend.
The dog eventually ended up back with the first woman at which time she noticed wounds on his neck that indicated signs of abuse.
She then put him up for adoption and Stephens rehomed him, though she was warned that he was abused and known to snap.
The sheriff said friends said Stephens thought she could work with him. Her dad also warned her that he was "dangerous."
Authorities have ruled out foul play and had CAT scans and X-rays done prior to the autopsy, to rule out homicide. There were no broken bones or signs of strangulation and there were no signs of sexual assault.
The toxicology reports on Stephens should be back in 90 days. The second lab results on the dogs should be completed soon.
Master trainer offers potential answers for why dogs turned on Stephens
For many, despite the facts that overwhelmingly led law enforcement to the conclusion that Stephens was in fact, mauled to death by her dogs, the gap between pets and killers is difficult to comprehend.
Certified master dog trainer Valerie Paul did not know Stephens, Pac-Man, or Tonka, but has testified in multiple court cases and has been deemed an expert by the court system.
She offered some potential answers as to how and why the dogs allegedly went from adoring their owner to feeding on her body.
“Most dogs aren’t going to just turn on an owner,” Paul said. “As more and more details come out, I think there probably was some sort of outside influence, but not necessarily another animal or anything like that – just something that could have enticed the dogs to get overexcited and react the way dogs will.”
"The fact that they are pit bulls doesn’t connect to what they did, it is a dog thing," said Paul. She said at the end of the day, dogs are animals, and in extreme circumstances, they can potentially view even their owners as threats or food sources.
"That’s actually very normal, dogs view people very differently than how we view people, when we see a body, we think of our loved ones and all of the memories that they bring to us, dogs don’t, in general."
Sergeant Mike Blackwood explained that the dogs were a “little bit neglected towards the end of this.”
They went from being inside dogs doted on by Stephens to living outside in a kennel. Stephens left the dogs with her father, and Blackwood said; “he wasn’t taking care of them – it wasn’t his responsibility.”
Friends explained that Stephens was going through certain personal events and she no longer had the dogs with her.
The weather changed, and the dogs lived out "in the cold" and were not fed daily. Blackwood said that with Stephens coming home maybe five times a week, the dogs became more isolated and only had contact with each other.
"This was such a huge lifestyle change,” Paul explained. There are so many factors within that lifestyle change that we may see as small things that the dogs may see as larger.”
Extreme lifestyle changes can have an effect on animals
Paul said extreme lifestyle changes can be large enough to potentially cause drastic temperament changes.
“The breed in and of itself is a high energy breed, they like to have a lot of structure and a lot of exercise, so by keeping them in a pin, alone, under socialized, away from people, that energy is just building up and building up and building up and that’s when you start to see dogs fighting more regularly, that’s when you start to see more negative scenarios," Paul said.
She pointed out that resource guarding, or getting hyped up could quickly turn into a negative energy – especially from dogs who had been cooped up.
“Someone getting involved, if done improperly, could get bitten,” Paul said.
No one can say for certain what exactly happened that afternoon.
"There is a lot of speculation…,” Paul said, “…but you can’t blame the breed.”
She said that pit bulls are actually very sweet and are good family dogs when given what they need.
“If you have concerns, talk to a trainer,” Paul added. “There were factors to this.”