Mauling victim's uncle says dogs attacked him so he shot one

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Two days after 9-year-old Emma Hernandez was fatally mauled by three pit bulls, her uncle said he found himself facing a similar threat. 

Jesse Lopez, 30, said he was left shaken Wednesday morning after he left his home and was attacked by two German shepherds that belong to a neighbor.

Francisco Hernandez, uncle of nine-year-old dog-mauling victim Emma Hernandez grieves the tragic loss of his niece as he stands with Tira Nowden, 9, of Detroit beside a makeshift memorial in front of Emma's house.

Emma was fatally mauled by three pit bulls in an alley close to her home Monday afternoon as frantic neighbors rushed to help, throwing bricks and whatever else could be used to try to stop the dogs. The attack was so horrific that counseling services were offered to emergency responders.

Lopez said at 8 a.m. Wednesday, he was walking to his truck on his way to work when the German shepherds, hidden behind his Ram pickup, accosted him.

"Once the dogs made eye contact with me, it wasn't even a second before it charged," he said. "I took off and they came running at me."

Lopez said one of the dogs grabbed his pants and scratched him.

"I kicked it and it ran behind my wife's car and then I turned around and the other was right behind me," he said.

Lopez, a CPL holder, said he pulled out his firearm and shot at the dog. The shot missed and when the dog attempted to attack him again, he fired a single shot, striking the dog in its side, he said

Family photo of  dog-mauling victim Emma Hernandez.

"Neighbors and wife called the police," he said. "I couldn't — I was on the floor shaking." 

Lopez has lived on the 6300 block of Faust for nine years. He said he was aware of the neighbor's dogs but never got close enough to interact with them.

"The owner came to apologize and said they never had a problem and that they are never let out, which isn't true," he said. "I've seen them wandering around the neighborhood before and so have the neighbors."

Detroit police and Animal Control were sent to the scene. No charges were filed against Lopez or the owner of the dogs.

A police spokesman said Lopez kicked one of the dogs and one of the animals bit his pants, adding that he is a valid CPL holder. The incident is under investigation.

The injured dog was taken to the vet by the owner, who Lopez says, is expecting to get both back from Animal Control.

"Those dogs do not need to be back on the streets," Lopez said. "They are aggressive dogs that need to be euthanized. The dogs didn't just randomly walk by; they tried to attack me."

Lopez, who attended Emma's visitation Friday, said the coincidence was upsetting.

"I've known her since she was a baby, it's horrible what happened to her and it's crazy that this happened," he said. "It's a coincidence that it's family but what's more upsetting is that no one is doing anything about these dogs."

The girl's funeral is at noon Saturday at St. Cunegunda Church in Detroit.

Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones said she too was shocked by the vicious mauling of Emma. She said after a similar fatal mauling of Xavier Strickland, 4, in 2015, she pushed for an overhaul of the city's Animal Control ordinance.

Jones said more effort is needed to address the city's dangerous animal problem and there should be a collaborative action to eliminate stray animals in neighborhoods. 

"We need to increase enforcement and strengthen laws against dog fighting," she said. "We need stronger rules on outdoor fencing, leashes and control of animals in our community.

"While I respect the rights of residents to have pets, the breeding of dangerous animals, lax care and the associated penalties must be dealt with definitively."

Lopez agreed.

"And it's not the animals' fault," he said. "More needs to be done about inspections and licensing of these owners."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_