In wake of girl's mauling death, calls grow for crackdown

As Emma Hernandez's family prepares for the 9-year-old's funeral this weekend, calls grew Wednesday for Detroit officials to prevent dog attacks like the one that killed the girl as she rode her bike in a west-side alley.

Family photo of  dog-mauling victim Emma Hernandez.

Edward Cruz, one of the neighborhood residents who tried to save Emma from the three pit bulls that mauled her Monday, said he wants to see the dog breed banned in Detroit.

"They're dangerous. They're vicious," he said Wednesday outside his family's home, across the alley from the house Emma Hernandez shared with her family on Florida Street, while visitors continued adding to a shrine of candles, balloons and stuffed animals.

Cruz said he hit the dogs with bricks to try to get them off Emma.

 "If the owners keep them, they should be locked up and keep a muzzle on them," he said.

Rosa Galvan said she believes those who have dogs should be made to monitor them more closely.

"I feel so sorry for the little girl," said Galvan, who brought a purple Teddy bear to the family's home Wednesday.

LaWanda Ervin, who came to the family's home Wednesday to place some balloons, said she was shaken by what happened to Emma. "It hurt my heart so bad," she said.

Ervin said while she doesn't support a ban on pit bulls, she wants to see stricter laws to hold dogs owners accountable.

"I believe everyone who has a pit bull should at least register them," she said. "At least if they get out, the owner is held accountable for them getting out."

Detroit Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda -Lopez, whose district is in southwest Detroit where Emma was killed, said work needs to be done to curb dog attacks.

“During the last budget cycle, we advocated for additional funding for Animal Control to have evening crews available in the community, but there is more work to do," she said. "I look forward to working with the Health Department and Animal Control to see how we can work together to make sure kids & animals are safe, and to ensure pet owners have the resources they need to be responsible owners.”

After returning from a doctor visit Monday morning, Emma was riding around the block on her bike and turned down an alley on Central, off Smart, when the pit bulls leaped over a fence and attacked her.

The girl’s father, Armando Hernandez, said he had warned the dog's owner that the fence used to hold the dogs was too flimsy. 

The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office said Wednesday it had received a warrant request from Detroit police but had not made a decision on possible charges against the dogs' owner, who is in custody.

Mayor Mike Duggan vowed action to prevent another such incident, saying in a statement that police Chief James Craig "has been in continual contact with me on the developments in the investigation."

"The prompt arrest and warrant request by the Detroit Police Department are an important reminder that dog owners will be held accountable for failure to secure dangerous animals," the mayor said. 

"It is not acceptable to have dangerous animals loose on the streets of Detroit," he said. "DPD and Animal Control are reviewing the entire issue to make certain the city will do everything possible to prevent this type of tragedy from ever occurring again."

As family members prepare to say farewell to Emma, they are still trying to process her death.

Francisco Hernandez, an uncle, said Wednesday he considered Emma his little sister as he looked over the growing collection of mementos well-wishers left outside the family's home in the 6000 block of Florida Street near Kirkwood and Central.

"It's hard," he said, breaking into tears. "It's a lot of support (but) nothing can bring her back."

Francisco Hernandez said the funeral for Emma will be at noon Saturday at St. Cunegunda Church, 5900 St. Lawrence St. in Detroit, followed by burial in Woodmere Cemetery. The family chose Woodmere Cemetery because they want her to be laid to rest beside her father's cousins.

Claudia Stapleton holds a portrait of her 9-year-old niece Emma Hernandez.

Visitation will be from 3-8 p.m. Friday at Professional Mortuary Services, 3833 Livernois, also in Detroit.

Claudia Stapleton, Emma's aunt and godmother, said the outpouring of love from the community has been beautiful. Their home has been visited by Emma's friends and teachers who shared their condolences, prayed with the family and lit candles for her.

Read more: Mauling leaves family planning girl's funeral instead of 4th-grade send-off

Read more: Finley: Detroit must rid itself of killer dogs

"We thank everyone so much reaching out and thinking of our girl," Stapleton said. "We're devastated and can't really think about having a funeral for her but we find comfort knowing she's in God's arms."

The Hernandez family said the tragedy was unexpected and they were not prepared financially for a funeral.

She said what was more unexpected was the donations from the community that will fully cover funeral costs. Detroit businessman Bill Pulte said he would pay for Emma's funeral if necessary and tweeted a call to action Tuesday to his online followers to contribute.

Memorials to Emma at the home of Claudia Stapleton, her aunt.

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than $50,000 had been pledged to a GoFundMe account to help pay for funeral costs.

"We're grateful to see there's still good people in the world and thank everyone who contributed to our family," Stapleton said.