BEAUFORT COUNTY, N.C. (WNCT) – Officials were unable to determine what type of canine was involved in the death of a Pantego teacher.
“After the completion of all testing and a review of the scientific and circumstantial evidence in the case, we are unable to make a definitive determination as to what type of canine attacked Brenda Hamilton.”
The Beaufort County Sherriff’s Office said that when Brenda Hamilton was attacked by an animal on Feb. 15, the Chavez family was awakened by their dogs barking by the road where the attack occurred.
When the family went to investigate they found their dogs near Hamilton who was lying in a ditch submerged up to her shoulders in water.
Chavez pulled Hamilton from the water while his wife asked help from another neighbor, Susan Davis.
Davis then called 911.
EMS personnel arrived and said they found Hamilton suffering from catastrophic injuries to both arms, both legs, and her scalp.
Hamilton was transported to Vidant Medical Center where she died days later.
Deputies and animal control officers responded to the scene.
North Carolina Wildlife officers and biologists also responded to aid in the investigation.
Investigators were not able to locate any eyewitnesses to the attack which likely occurred during darkness, shortly after 5 am on Feb.15.
Deputies said they found a dead nutria near where the attack began.
The nutria appeared to be a fresh kill and injuries to it appeared to have been inflicted by another animal.
A considerable amount of blood was also found on the road leading Investigators to where Hamilton was found in the ditch.
The two dogs found near Hamilton were examined about an hour after the attack by deputies and animal control officers.
The dogs had no signs of aggression towards deputies, they were not wet, and there was no visible sign of mud or blood on either dog.
Later, on the afternoon of the attack, field tests for blood were performed and both dogs tested positive for trace amounts of human blood on their paws and in their mouth.
On the same day of the attack, Wildlife officers took several items of evidence to the forensics lab at Western Carolina University to be tested.
The next day, investigators were told by an N.C. Wildlife biologist that domestic canine DNA was located on Hamilton’s outer jacket and one of her shoes and based on those test results N.C. Wildlife would no longer be involved in the investigation.
However, on the following Monday, investigators spoke directly with the lab and learned the DNA found during initial testing was likely domestic canine DNA but the testing did not rule out wild canines indigenous to the area.
For that reason, deputies requested the lab perform further testing in a search for definitive answers.
On Feb. 17, two days after the attack, the two dogs found near Hamilton were seized at the request of the deputies by the Beaufort County Animal Control and quarantined for observation.
The dogs displayed no aggression when they were seized and at no time during their quarantine.
The dogs were returned to their owners after 10 days of observation.
The day of the attack and the following week, investigators collected 14 DNA samples from domestic canines in area.
Those samples and other items of evidence were submitted to the lab for further testing.
A total of 33 items were eventually submitted for testing.
During the investigation, investigators learned that Hamilton walked the same route frequently as part of her daily exercise regimen.
During her walk, it was common for her to be accompanied by domestic dogs in the area, including the two dogs found near her the morning of the attack.
Hamilton’s husband reported none of the dogs ever bothered her or displayed any aggression towards her on her daily walks.
Some of the first test results returned to investigators found domestic canine DNA on both Hamilton’s outer jacket and her shoe.
That DNA was a match to the two dogs previously seized.
After the completion of 49 separate tests, investigators also learned the lab located domestic canine mitochondrial DNA on six other items of evidence, a swab from Hamilton’s ear, a swab from her scalp, the flashlight she carried in her hand, her hooded sweatshirt, her T-shirt, and the dead nutria.
The mitochondrial DNA likely came from one of the same two dogs, however mitochondrial DNA, which comes from the mother is non-discriminating and a match to a specific dog could not be made.
All other items tested yielded no DNA results.
While the reason for that is unknown, it is believed those tests were affected because Hamilton was in water up to her shoulders
All testing in the case is now concluded.
No items recovered from the scene yielded DNA results indicative of coyote or bear.
The evidence in the case was reviewed by Beaufort County’s Dangerous Dog Committee.
An investigator, the dog’s owners and neighbors familiar with the dogs all testified before the committee and after a review of the evidence and testimony, the committee did not find the dogs to be dangerous.
Officials said that after the completion of all testing and a review of the scientific and circumstantial evidence in the case, they are unable to make a definitive determination as to what type of canine attacked Brenda Hamilton.
While the DNA evidence brings the two domestic canines under suspicion, the observations of those two canines by deputies, animal control officers, and investigators tell a different story.