When Bethany Lynn Stephens, of Glen Allen, Va., was mauled to death last week by her 2 pit bulls while out for a walk, rumors swirled that she was killed by a different predator -- perhaps a bear or coyote.
The rumors were so widespread on social media that Goochland County Sheriff Jim Agnew decided to reveal information that his office had withheld from the public.
Agnew said that when he and his officers arrived at the horrific scene, they observed the 2 dogs eating the 22-year-old woman's rib cage.
Stephens, who raised the pit bulls since they were puppies, was attacked while walking the dogs in a wooded area not far from her father's house in Goochland, Va, about 30 miles from Richmond.
Stephens' father went looking for her on Thursday, Dec. 14, after he realized she had been missing for over 24 hours.
He found her body -- which he originally mistook for an animal carcass -- about half a mile from the main road.
The distraught father described seeing the 2 dogs "aggressively" guarding his daughter's body.
That description of the dogs fiercely protecting their owner's body led many dog lovers around the world to assume someone or something else killed her.
The news stunned Stephens' friends, including Barbara Norris, who said the dogs would never harm anyone.
“They’d kill you with kisses,” Norris told NBC affiliate WWBT.
But Agnew told reporters the evidence pointed to Stephens' dogs as her killers.
"Ms. Stephens was terribly, terribly injured, but it was very apparent to us that she had been dead for quite some time," he said.
Agnew said one of the dogs grabbed Stephens by the neck, probably when she tried to break up a fight. "The first traumatic injury ... was to her throat and face," Agnew said.
He added that the damage to her body “was so extensive that there was nothing left to compare bite marks to.”
Agnew said his office was flooded with phone calls from dog lovers begging him to spare the lives of the 2 pit bulls because they could not have killed her.
He told The Washington Post earlier that investigators don’t suspect foul play and that forensic evidence, including defensive wounds on her hands and arms, showed that the dogs were responsible for her death.
Sgt. Mike Blackwood of the sheriff’s office says Stephens and the dogs were not particularly close. She lived elsewhere and the dogs lived with her father.
Blackwood told reporters that the dogs were kept outside in a kennel with little human contact. He said Stephens stopped by the house "about 5 times a week" to feed or walk the animals.
"They became a little distant from their owner towards the end,” Blackwood said.
Shawn Whitlock, an investigator with the sheriff’s office, said there was no sign that she was killed by a human.
“Nothing that said domestic violence. Nothing that said she was stabbed. Nothing that said she was shot. No bones, no injuries to the throat area. There was no particular bleeding inside the esophagus, which would’ve been conducive with choking her out. None of that,” he told reporters.
There is also no evidence that she had been sexually assaulted, authorities said.
Agnew said at least one of the dogs had a significant amount of blood on its collar and neck, the Washington Post reported.
He said the bite marks on Stephens' skull were consistent with canine teeth and that a bear's teeth would have punctured her skull.
The dogs were euthanized Saturday, with the family’s permission.
“I think it was in the best interest of our community and for public safety to do that,” Agnew said. “Once a dog tastes human flesh, it’s no longer safe to have that dog around humans.”