A 9-year-old girl, Emma Valentina Hernandez, was mauled to death by three pit bulls while she was riding her bike in her Detroit neighborhood on Monday. According to CNN affiliate WDIV, her father had argued with the dogs’ owner about the animals’ lack of proper fencing just one week before the child’s death.
Emma’s aunt, Claudia Stapleton, told WDIV that Emma’s father, Armando Hernandez, asked the dogs’ owner to install better fencing to keep the dogs enclosed instead of allowing them to roam around the neighborhood.
“They didn’t do anything,” Stapleton told the station.
“This is her neighborhood. She should be able to be free and do what every kid does — walk around, ride their bikes — they shouldn’t be afraid to be in their own neighborhood,” Stapleton continued. “This is just very devastating. Very, very hurtful for this family.”
“We had an argument about it just last week and he just didn’t take care of his dogs properly. He could have prevented this,” the child’s father, Armando Hernandez, told Detroit radio station WWJ earlier this week.
After the attack, Emma was taken to Children’s Hospital of Michigan, where she died from her injuries. The Wayne County medical examiner ruled it an accident, according to The Detroit News.
The 33-year-old male dog owner was arrested and remains in custody pending charges, Detroit police spokesman Dan Donakowski told PEOPLE earlier this week. His name was not released.
The dogs involved in the attack were brought to Detroit Animal Care and Control, where they’re currently being evaluated, CNN reports.
“Due to the severity of this case, it is very likely that the dogs will be euthanized,” the department revealed in a statement.
Recalling the horrific incident, Emma’s father said he can’t stop replaying it in his head. “Just over and over, I keep replaying it,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep. I haven’t slept. Just, every time I close my eyes, man, I see my baby girl.”
“I tried my best. I tried CPR, I tried helping her. I couldn’t do it. I did everything I could in my power to just — she was gone. She was gone when I reached her,” he said.
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A neighbor, Deborah Golden, said she heard screaming as she exited her house and tried to help the child.
“I seen the little girl flat on her back with the bite marks and part of her neck hanging off,” Golden said, reports Detroit TV station WXYZ. “I started CPR and I had the dad grab the neck and hold it,” she said.
Emma “was a wonderful child who touched the lives of those around her,” her family wrote in tribute on a GoFundMe page requesting donations for her funeral expenses (these expenses have since been covered, thanks to a flood of donations). “She leaves behind a family that loves her immensely.”
Emma’s father said that in November 2017, police were called and logged a complaint about the dogs, “but they didn’t follow up on it,” according to WWJ. “The dogs stayed there loose, wild, and the guy didn’t feed them. The poor dogs, you know, I don’t blame them.”
The Detroit Free Press also reports that two of the owner’s dogs were the subject of an additional complaint in 2018. “We received a call back in March of 2018 regarding two dogs that were not in (their) fence,” Detroit Health Department spokeswoman Tamekia Nixon told the Free Press. “Our team did go out to the home and tried to make contact with the dog owner and the dog owner was not there.”
The department reportedly went back to the house to try to speak with the owner again, but they were still unsuccessful.
Police say the investigation is continuing.