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10-year-old boy killed after pair of pit bulls attack

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

LEVERETT'S CHAPEL — Rusk County officials are investigating the death of a 10-year-old boy killed Monday by pit bulls, according to Sheriff Danny Pirtle .

Justin Clinton , a fourth-grader at Leverett's Chapel Elementary School, was pronounced dead at Good Shepherd Medical Center.

Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo
A Ripstik, which is similar to a skateboar, leans against a fence at the scene where Justin Clinton was killed by dogs Monday in Leverett's Chapel.



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Gregg County Justice of the Peace B.H. Jameson said Clinton's body was sent to Dallas for an autopsy to determine the exact cause of his death.

"It'll be up to the (Rusk County) DA's office to determine any charges," Jameson said.

Pirtle said two dogs killed the boy about noon Monday on CR 133, near the Leverett's Chapel school campus. Through a statement, Pirtle's office said the dogs were pit bulls and were in the custody of the Rusk County Sheriff's Office.

It was not immediately clear whether authorities will order the dogs to be euthanized.

"We just can't believe it. The mother is not taking it very well, and the grandmother is devastated," said Carolyn Spence , the boy's great-aunt. "These are vicious dogs, and they are so unpredictable. There are states that outlaw these types of dogs. This should have never happened to Justin."

The identity of the dogs' owner was not immediately available. Pirtle's office said the incident is under investigation.

"Both families are hurt," said the Rev. Edwin Findley, the pastor of Laird Hill Baptist Church who was acting as a spokesman for the family that owns the dogs. "This has been hard for everyone involved."

Residents of Leverett's Chapel, a tight-knit community of about 100 residents in northern Rusk County, said the news has been hard to take.

"We used to see him playing up and down this street all the time," Jeffery Sanders said. "He was a sweet kid, and it seemed like everyone liked him."

Sanders said he's noticed a spike in stray dogs in the neighborhood, which has caused some residents to worry about the safety of their children.

"These people move out here to the country and bring these mean dogs with them, and that's not safe for these children," Sanders said.

Friends Josh Wallace , 16, and Jeffery Sanders , 13, said they were shocked by the incident, but not surprised.

"They were mean dogs," Jeffery said. "When you walked by their yard they would charge at you and bark a lot, and the female dog had puppies. We knew (Justin), and this is really hard for us."

Rusk County officials considered enacting a leash law in August 2008 for unincorporated areas of the county, after residents in the Elderville subdivisions of Airport Gardens and Ranchette complained of dangerous, stray dogs not being properly secured in their neighborhoods. Commissioners did not take action on the matter.

Clinton's cousin Christi Freeland said a some type of law might have saved the young boy's life.

"They say American dogs can never harm you; they're good breeds," Freeland said while wiping away tears. "That's not true. A dog is a dog, and they can harm people. We need laws banning these kinds of animals because this is just an awful thing to happen to child."

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