A community is in mourning after Emma Valentina Hernandez, 9, was mauled to death by three pit bulls. The dogs attacked while Emma was riding her bike outside of the Hernandez family’s West Detroit, Michigan home. On August 19, at approximately 4 p.m., the dogs slipped loose from the yard of neighbor Pierre Cleveland,33, and charged at Emma. Witnesses said the dogs knocked Emma off her bike, then viciously killed her.
On August 22, Cleveland was charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and having a dangerous animal causing death. Bond has been set at $2 million cash. Cleveland’s attorney, Emmett Greenwood, has pleaded not guilty on his client’s behalf.
“She was a very happy child and she’s gonna be very, very missed. It’s just something that shouldn’t have happened. They should have been more careful with their dogs,” Emma’s aunt, Claudia Stapleton said.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Emma Hernandez’s Father & Brother Witnessed the Attack
Emma’s father, Armando Hernandez, witnessed the attack and said the dogs killed his daughter while she was in an alleyway near Central Avenue and Smart Street, by the Hernandez family home. WXYZ News reported that Emma’s brother also saw the terrifying incident.
Hernandez attempted to pull the dogs off of Emma. “I tried my best. I tried CPR. I tried helping her. I did everything I could in my power,” he told WWJ – AM. “She was gone when I reached her.”
2. A Neighbor Shot One of the Dogs While Another Neighbor Threw Bricks
Two good Samaritans tried to help Emma. A neighbor shot and killed one of the pit bulls while another neighbor began throwing bricks to chase the dogs away.
“I saw three dogs on top of a little girl,” said Edward Cruz. “So I had no hesitation but to run up there, pick up a brick and throw it at the dogs.” The dogs were eventually captured by animal control and will likely be euthanized.
First responders rushed Emma to a nearby hospital where she was later pronounced dead. “It’s hard for me not to cry,” Detroit Police Department Captain Russell Solano said. “It’s tough, real tough. “We’re talking about a nine-year-old girl who is just out there playing and now she’s not here.”
3. Armando Hernandez Had Previously Fought With His Neighbor About the Dogs
Armando Hernandez said the three pit bulls belonged to his neighbor. The dogs were known to regularly escape from their yard and were often seen prowling the area. Prior to Emma’s death, Hernandez argued with the dogs’ owner for failing to properly restrain the animals.
According to Hernandez and eyewitnesses, the dogs were able to squeeze through the owner’s dilapidated fence. “I knew the dogs were there. I knew the neighbor,” he said “we had an argument about it last week and he just didn’t care about his dogs properly. He could have prevented this.”
Neighbors told WXYZ that the police had previously spoken to the owner about his animals. Heavy contacted both the Detroit Police Department and Detroit Animal Care and Control on August 21 and is waiting to learn if previous complaints had been lodged against the dogs’ owner or if any past citations had been issued.
4. Prominent Detroit Philanthropist Bill Pulte Paid for Emma’s Funeral
When the Hernandez family said they couldn’t afford a funeral for Emma and were forced to set up a GoFundMe page to ask for donations, Detroit philanthropist and inventor Bill Pulte stepped in and paid for all of the little girl’s burial expenses.
Pulte is the founder of the Blight Authority, an organization that works to eliminate urban decay by removing homes and buildings that pose a threat to human health, safety, and public welfare. He is also grandson of construction tycoon and philanthropist William Pulte.
“I saw the story on the Free Press, was shocked and said we have to help this family in their time of need,” he said in a statement to the Detroit Free Press.
“My teammates and I want to help this girl’s family because they are suffering, and the least we can do is tweet about it and make them feel even a little bit better,” he added.
5. Pierre Cleveland Was Arrested Soon After Emma Hernandez’s Death
At an August 20 press conference, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said that Cleveland, who was not named at the time, was taken into custody after the incident. He added that the Wayne County Prosecutors Office had received a warrant request.
The warrant request was under review to determine if charges would be filed. The charging determination was initially expected to be announced on August 21 but was not made public until the following day. Craig emphasized that Pierre Cleveland should be held accountable. “This should not have happened.”
“Certainly the owner has a responsibility when they have violent animals that those animals are to be secured at all times,” he said. “If you can’t secure the animal, you shouldn’t have the animal. Period.”