The haunting case of a 77-year-old school teacher mauled to death by an unknown animal in coastal North Carolina is being taken nationwide in the search for answers.
It’s been six months since Brenda Hamilton was attacked while walking her dogs in Beaufort County, and deputies have yet to figure out what exactly is to blame for her killing.
Deputies have speculated it could have been a coyote, wolves or even wild dogs, but DNA evidence has concluded only that the attacker was canine in nature, the sheriff’s office said in a press release.
The Beaufort County Commission voted Monday to launch a committee in search of definitive answers, with the intention of having national experts weigh in, reports WITN. The vote was unanimous and included money to pay consultants, WCTI said Tuesday.
“There is a concern in the community that because this attack was from unknown sources, that it could happen again,” commissioner Hood Richardson told WITN. “As a matter of public safety... we need to bring this mystery to some kind of a conclusion.”
Rumors are spreading on social media of what might be lurking in the woods.
“In my opinion it’s a black panther,” posted Teresa Sawyer Huffman on Facebook this week. “Just a few days ago a neighbor just a couple of houses down when outside, they said a big black animal run by them.”
“One word. Hybrid,” wrote Chasity Lauren Paul on Facebook. “Praying they find out for the sake of the family and for everyone in Beaufort County. Been uneasy since this happened especially taking my dog out to use the bathroom early morning or right before bed.”
The county commission has already gotten input from the state’s Wildlife Resources Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Western Carolina University, reported the Washington Times on July 11.
Western Carolina science teacher Maureen Hickman told commissioners the animal may have been the hybrid offspring of dog and coyote or dog and wolf, WCTI reported.
She was attacked about 5:30 a.m. on Feb. 15, while walking her dogs on in the Pantego community, about 135 miles east of Raleigh, according to a Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office press release.
A family in the area told investigators they were “awakened by their dogs barking by the road” and investigated to find “Hamilton who was lying in a ditch submerged up to her shoulders in water,” a sheriff’s office release said.
“EMS personnel arrived to find Hamilton suffering from catastrophic injuries to both arms, both legs, and her scalp,” according to the release.
“A considerable amount of blood was also found on the road leading Investigators to where Hamilton was found in the ditch. The two dogs found near Hamilton were examined about an hour after the attack by deputies and animal Control Officers. The dogs displayed no signs of aggression,” the release said.
The department took 14 DNA samples from pet dogs in area, but found no match, officials said.
“After the completion of all testing and a review of the scientific and circumstantial evidence in this case, we are unable to make a definitive determination as to what type of canine attacked Brenda Hamilton,” said the department.