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Detroit — Lucillie Strickland says she has been “constantly” reliving in her mind the sight of her 4-year-old son being mauled by four pit bulls Wednesday.

“They pulled him from me and (dragged) him under the fence. They just ate him,” said Strickland, a 33-year-old wife and mother of seven, breaking down in tears.

Strickland was walking with her 4-year-old son Xavier to nearby Thurgood Marshall school, when four pit bulls charged from the back of a home in the 15500 block of Baylis around 12:25 p.m. Wednesday. They attacked her child as she tried to fight them off.

The dogs attacked Strickland, too, biting her in the back and the legs as she tried to protect Xavier, a little boy small for his age.

“I fell on top of him,” Strickland said Thursday, explaining how she tried to protect her little boy. “I had him under my arms.”

When police arrived in the neighborhood near the Lodge Freeway and Linwood they fatally shot three of the dogs. The fourth was captured.

Xavier was taken to Henry Ford Hospital where he died despite doctors’ efforts to save him.

It isn’t the first time the dogs have gotten loose and attacked one of the Strickland children. The family lives around the corner from where the mauling took place.

Xavier’s aunt Laconya Cage said the boy’s 9-year-old sister was attacked by one of the dogs and had to see a doctor, but her injuries were just scratches. Cage wasn’t sure if police were called but her brother, Ramone Cage, said the 41-year-old man who owns the dogs was told about the incident.

“He was warned (about the dogs),” said Ramone Cage, Xavier’s maternal uncle. “He should serve jail time. We can never get my nephew back. This is a mother whose child was torn like a rag doll.”

During the attack, witnesses screamed at the dogs and used a brick and club to try to free the boy.

Strickland’s family remembered Xavier as an energetic, little boy who smiled all the time and liked the Power Rangers and Lego toys. They are making funeral arrangements for him next week.

Gap in fence

The dog escaped through a “significant” gap in the fence before grabbing the boy, Detroit Officer Jennifer Moreno said Thursday.

“His mother was trying to hold onto her child and the dog bit her also,” Moreno said. “She was laying on top of the boy. I can’t imagine. His mom, his poor mom.”

The boy died of multiple puncture wounds to his body, according to the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office. The manner of death was ruled accidental.

The owner of the pit bulls was arrested Wednesday, police said. The man remained in custody early Thursday and may face charges including negligent homicide or manslaughter, Moreno said. He is cooperating with police, officials have said.

Animal control received no prior complaints about the animals involved in Wednesday’s attack, said Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, executive director and health officer for the Detroit Health Department, which oversees the city’s animal control department.

“We’ve had no prior contact with the owner of those animals, which means they were not licensed and there were no specific complaints about them,” he said.

But the department did receive two complaints, in 2013 and 2014, about stray dogs in the area, he said.

“(Responding officers) did the regular sweep and there were no animals located,” El-Sayed said.

Health official’s advice

He noted responsible pet ownership can prevent tragic animal encounters.

“It takes people deciding to make sure their dogs are protected from ever being involved in something like this and protecting other people’s children,” said El-Sayed. “Because (Xavier) is everybody’s child. If it takes a village to raise a child, this happened in our village.”

El-Sayed said his department is dedicated to increasing responsible pet ownership in the city, including licensing pets and keeping dogs leashed.

“I just can’t imagine watching your 4-year-old mauled by a number of dogs,” he said. “This is the challenge we face in the city and responsible ownership is probably the biggest part of that. We will do everything we can to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with Xavier’s funeral costs.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2027

Detroit News Staff Writer Tom Greenwood contributed.

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