WARNING – DISTRESSING CONTENT: A teenage girl has been killed by a pack of 20 dogs while taking a walk near her family’s home on the Navajo Nation in the US.
Lyssa Rose Upshaw’s body was found by her mum Marissa Jones off a dirt trail in Fort Defiance in New Mexico, US, in mid-May, local media reports.
However the 13-year-old’s cause of death was not confirmed until this week.
Ms Jones told the Navajo Times that she had just returned home from grocery shopping one day when Lyssa asked if she could go for a walk before dinner.
But when she didn’t return home by her 5.30pm request, Ms Jones said she began to worry and sent her son out to look for the teen.
When he didn’t find anything, Ms Jones’ sister and cousins all began to frantically search.
It was then they approached a home where the mum said the family “has a bunch of mean dogs, about 20”.
Ms Jones told the publication she was bitten by one of them as she tried to reach the bottom of a hill.
They soon found the 13-year-old curled up in the foetal position off the dirt trail.
“Her legs were all chewed up,” Ms Jones said. “She was gone.”
An autopsy released this week determined Lyssa had extensive injuries that were consistent with canine teeth marks, including cuts and abrasions on her neck and head, and deep soft tissue wounds on her legs.
Her clothes were torn, and she was covered in dirt.
While Ms Jones suspected a dog attack since she found her daughter, she had been awaiting an official cause.
“I never thought that would ever happen to my daughter,” she said. “She was a dog lover.”
The medical examiner’s office in Coconino County classified Lyssa’s death as accidental.
The deadly attack has renewed discussion across the reservation about how to hold people accountable for their pets.
Tribal charges being considered
Tribal lawmakers recently passed a resolution to establish criminal penalties. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez vetoed it, saying it didn’t go far enough and needs more input.
At least a handful of deaths on the Navajo Nation over the years have been blamed on dog packs, and numerous other people have been injured.
None of the tribe’s animal control laws, which are considered civil offences, hold dog owners responsible for deaths.
Michael Henderson, the tribe’s criminal investigations director, said tribal charges are being considered in Lyssa’s death as authorities gather more evidence and await results for specimens collected from the dogs that belonged to a neighbour.
The FBI is conducting some of the lab testing. Mr Henderson said he has spoken with federal prosecutors whose initial response was that the case is not one that could be charged under a limited set of crimes for which the federal government has jurisdiction on tribal land.
Tribes have concurrent jurisdiction but often seek federal charges because they carry much stiffer penalties than under tribal law.
The maximum time in jail that the Navajo Nation could impose for any crime, regardless of the severity, is one year.
Mum calls for justice for 'baby girl'
Ms Jones said her “baby girl” who had aspirations of running on the high school cross country team deserved more compassion and sympathy from the neighbours who owned the dogs, and more attention from investigators on the case.
She has been pushing for jail time and fines for whoever is found responsible, though Mr Henderson acknowledged there’s not a clear path.
“I’m hoping and I’m praying for my daughter to get her justice,” Ms Jones said.
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