CITRA - Eighty-two-year-old Alice Broom was killed by a pack of pit bulls that attacked her outside her front door Friday in this rural north Marion County community.
Firefighters said Broom, who died later at Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, had severe lacerations over her entire body as well as some puncture wounds.
The dogs belonged to 67-year-old Robert Freeman, her next-door neighbor.
Freeman, a retiree and self-described "dog lover," found Broom surrounded by his dogs when he came home at 4:30 p.m. He said he didn't know how the seven dogs had broken out of his mobile home.
He found her lying in her front yard, with her car door open.
"I was so upset," Freeman said. "Maybe three or four of them were around her at the time. I didn't take time to ID them. I just wanted to get them off her." He didn't know how long the attack had been going on but speculated it may have begun 10 or 15 minutes prior.
"They were chewing on her, all right," he said.
A couple hours after the attack, Broom's sister, Marjorie Daymon, 72, said the victim and her neighbors had been afraid of the dogs.
"It's really bad here," said Daymon, who lives nearby. "We're scared to walk by them dogs."
One of Broom's daughters, Mary Alice Smothers, 56, said, "I just knew it in my heart that someone would get hurt."
Smothers said she had called Marion County animal control several times since October about the dogs. One of them had bitten a nephew of hers.
"I pleaded with them to do something about it," she said.
Animal control officials came out a couple of times, Smothers said, but they didn't do anything about the dogs.
On Friday night, Marion County sheriff's Maj. Mike McQuaig confirmed animal control officials had come to the neighborhood, though he didn't know how many times or in what capacity.
County Administrator Pat Howard said: "The only thing I can tell you is, obviously, we are very sorry about the lady's death.
"Apparently, we have been called out on the dogs," he said. But none of the residents "would swear out a warrant on the dogs. So we had nothing but verbal complaints."
Howard said his understanding is that without a sworn affidavit the animal control officers are limited in what they can do. Animal control is a function of the Code Enforcement Department.
McQuaig said investigators are looking into three issues: 1) whether Freeman had prior knowledge of the danger posed by the dogs and whether they had bitten anyone before, 2) whether he acted in a reckless manner, not doing everything he could to maintain control of the dogs, and 3) whether he knew the dogs had a tendency to react aggressively.
As of Friday night, Freeman had not been charged with any crime.
"We're going to continue the investigation until we talk to all agencies involved with animal control," McQuaig said.
Outside the house at about 7 p.m., McQuaig told the family that Broom had died.
"My mama, my best friend, what am I going to do without her?" Smothers exclaimed.
Despite her age, Broom had been an active woman, family members said. She had gone to her doctor in Ocala Friday and been told she was in great shape. She was a Methodist and had worked manufacturing crates and grading peanuts. In recent years, she enjoyed going out with her sister.
Broom had just returned home after visiting a neighbor Friday afternoon when she was attacked.
Freeman, the dog owner, said he left his mobile home at 8:30 a.m. Friday with the seven mixed-breed pit bulls inside and the door wired shut. He said the dogs were 9 to 10 months old, though McQuaig said one of them was a smaller puppy.
Freeman said the dogs would stay in the home and were only outside when he was.
Members of the victim's family said, on the other hand, that the dogs were often running loose.
They had been teased by children, Freeman said, but were only aggressive around his property. He said they had bitten a couple of people before. Broom, he said, knew the pit bulls and their mother.
The county seized the dogs on Friday. Freeman said he told county officials to put them down.
"I don't know," said Smothers, when asked if she blamed Freeman. "I can't blame him. I blame animal control."
Austin L. Miller covers public safety. He can be reached at austin.miller@starbanner.com or (352) 867-4118.
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