Police encountered a horrific scene on Dec. 14 when they discovered the severely mauled body of 22-year-old Bethany Lynn Stephens in a wooded area near her home in a rural town in Virginia.
Reported missing two days earlier, Bethany had last been seen walking her two pit bulls near the woods in Goochland. When Bethany's body was found by her father, John Stephens, the dogs were standing guard over the body, the Daily Mail reports.
After a preliminary investigation, police have determined that Bethany was mauled to death by her own dogs and that foul play was not involved.
"There was no evidence of any larger animal there," said Goochland County Sheriff James Agnew. "The medical examiner made it pretty clear that it was not a large animal because the bite wounds didn't puncture her skull."
The medical examiner also has determined that sexual assault is not considered a factor, as no marks were found on the body to indicate such.
Bethany was an experienced dog handler who worked at a dog training facility. But at 5-foot-1-inch and 125 pounds, she was not much bigger than her two brindle-colored pit bulls.
The dogs had recently gone to live with Bethany's father, according to Goochland County Sgt. Mike Blackwood, and were housed in a kennel outside the home. Bethany would go to visit them several times a week, but the animals were not receiving the amount of attention they were used to.
Still, family and friends are disputing the police findings that she was killed by her own pets. By all accounts, the dogs were socialized, passive and had a significant bond with Bethany, according to WPIX.
Police said they were prompted to share more information regarding details of Bethany's death in response to suspicions within the community that other compelling evidence was not being pursued.
"I observed -- as well as four other deputy sheriffs -- the dogs eating the ribcage on the body," Agnew told WPIX. "Once a dog tastes human flesh, it is not safe to have that dog around humans."
The family did consent to having the dogs euthanized days after Bethany's death.
There is a consensus among animal experts that it is extremely rare for dogs to attack -- let alone maul -- their owners without provocation.
Police continue to carry out forensic tests at the scene, and animal toxicology reports are expected which may reveal more information.