It was just before 7:30 Tuesday morning, around the time Shamonte Clayton’s southwest Atlanta neighborhood comes alive, when the sleeping resident was jarred awake by the sounds of children screaming.
Alarmed, because these screams weren’t accompanied by the routine giggles of most school mornings, Clayton told local media he grabbed his gun and ran outside.
What he found was grisly chaos — panicked parents, flocking neighbors and a pack of scared schoolchildren shielding themselves from the jaws of several loose dogs circling the area.
Those dogs, identified by officials as a pit bull mix and border collie, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, had already attacked.
Clayton told WXIA-TV he saw two more children, badly bitten, lying on the ground, a 5-year-old girl, Syari Sanders, and a boy, 6-year-old Logan Braatz.
Nearby the boy’s limp body hovered his shocked mother.
“I picked up the child’s body because the mother couldn’t do nothing but sit there and just cry,” Clayton told the AJC, “… that hurt me.”
He carried the boy to an ambulance, Clayton told the AJC, but his injuries were too severe. Logan died Tuesday, police said, and the Associated Press reported that Syari was hospitalized with critical injuries.
— WSB-TV (@wsbtv) January 17, 2017
The deadly attack has thrust the Atlanta community into a heated debate over how welcoming it wants to be toward pit bulls, a breed of dog that has long caused controversy in cities across America. Critics say pit bulls are dangerous, propelled by an unstoppable ferocity stamped in their DNA. Advocates reject that notion, adamant that it’s not genes to blame, but training and treatment.
Already, some residents have called on the Atlanta City Council to restrict or ban pit bull ownership, claiming that a chronic problem of stray dogs has kept senior citizens and children from venturing outside. And in the 48 hours since Tuesday’s attack, City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms proposed legislation that would crack down on irresponsible dog owners.
For the incident this week, that’s where prosecutors are placing the blame.
On Tuesday, Cameron Tucker, the owner of the two suspect dogs, was arrested and initially charged with two counts of reckless conduct, a misdemeanor, Atlanta police said. But at his first appearance in court Wednesday, officials added an involuntary manslaughter charge. His bond was set at $70,000, reported the AJC, and he was ordered to avoid animals and the victims’ families as conditions of his bond.
Tucker’s lawyer, Cinque Axam, told CBS 46 that the 31-year-old man lives in the Atlanta neighborhood with his mother, fiancee, 6-month-old daughter and his future mother-in-law. Axam called Tucker’s two dogs additional family members.
“Mr. Tucker is shocked, he’s saddened and he is surprised that this has occurred,” Axam told CBS 46. “It’s heartbreaking, it’s very sad, but Mr. Tucker has cooperated with the police and the authorities.”
Axam said the dogs are indoor, family pets that are “around kids all the time,” the TV station reported. Each morning, Axam said, Tucker puts the dogs outside into his fenced-in backyard. When Tucker realized the dogs had escaped Tuesday, Axam said, he “immediately” went out searching for them.
“We’re not sure yet how they got out,” Axam told CBS 46.
Neighbors told local media they had seen the dogs wandering the neighborhood before, but that they’d never been aggressive.
The mother of the boy who was killed, Angelica Braatz, told WSB-TV that the last thing her son said to her Tuesday morning was, “I love you Mommy.”
He added: “I’ll see you after school.”
It wasn’t long after that Braatz heard the screams of the children walking to their school bus.
“Everybody came running,” she told CBS 46.
Heartbreaking news today. Child has died as a result of a pit bull attack. Prayers go out to the family. Homicide detectives on the scene.
— Atlanta Police Dept (@Atlanta_Police) January 17, 2017
Braatz said she first saw the girl lying on the ground, then joined the other frantic adults searching for the rest of the children — including Logan. She eventually found him, lying on the ground behind a nearby house. He was limp.
Clayton, the neighbor who carried the boy to the ambulance, came soon after. By that time, he had already chased away one dog from Syari, the injured girl, he told WXIA-TV, and defended the children crowding on the porch from further attack.
Clayton then used his gun, he told the AJC, to scare one of the dogs away from Logan.
Tamiko Williams, a relative of the 5-year-old girl, told CBS 46 that other adults with bats and sticks ran to help. Other witnesses told Fox 5 that neighbors showed up with knives.
“The dogs was still chasing everybody, there was nothing we could do,” Williams said, adding “They kept coming back, kept coming back.”
Even the other children, who witnessed their friends’ attack, fought back.
“We had some brave kids,” Atlanta police Sgt. Warren Pickard told the AJC. “Some kids ran back to the scene to try to pull the dogs off the children that were injured.”
Photos taken during the capture of the dogs show one with bloodstained fur. The dogs were not wearing collars, reported Fox 5, but were eventually taken into custody by Fulton County Animal Control, police said. One dog was injured when it was shot at by police.
Residents, lawmakers and the victims’ families are still searching for an appropriate reaction to the tragedy.
“As pet owners, if we can’t be responsible, then as a city we have to toughen our laws to make people more responsible,” Bottoms, the city councilwoman, told Fox 5. “And if it means that you don’t have sense enough to do what you’re supposed to do, then we need to put some laws in the books to tell you what you’re supposed to do.”
Regulating pit bull ownership, though, could be a different challenge altogether.
Several metro-area counties have restrictions or ordinances already in place regarding pit bulls and other large dogs. In Fulton County, where Tuesday’s attack took place, pit bulls, Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers and German shepherds are declared “potentially dangerous” and require special registration. Owning them is still legal, though.
The Georgia state legislature considered preventing local governments from banning pit bulls in 2015, reported the AJC, but then passed a law in 2016 that allows communities to continue regulating the issues involving “vicious dogs, abandoned dogs or stray dogs” themselves.
An emotional Braatz told WSB-TV 2 she just wants people to watch their pets.
“This is not something that families should have to go through,” she said, “because irresponsible dog owners can’t keep a hold of their animals?”
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