Lyssa Rose Upshaw Navajo Nation girl, 13, mauled to death by pack of 20 dogs. Tribal leaders grapple with what punishment to dole out to dog pack owner.
Lyssa Rose Upshaw was found to have extensive injuries consistent with canine teeth marks, including cuts and abrasions on her neck and head and deep soft tissue wounds on her legs.
Her clothes were torn and she was covered in dirt after she was attacked in mid May, according to an autopsy released this week by the medical examiner’s office in Coconino County.
Her mother, Marissa ‘Ris’ Rose Jones, has suspected dogs were to blame ever since she saw her daughter curled up off a dirt trail on May 16 in Fort Defiance, but she has been awaiting an official cause.
‘I never thought that would ever happen to my daughter,’ the bereaved mother said according to AP. ‘She was a dog lover.’
Open investigation into death continues
While Lyssa’s death was ruled accidental, the investigation into the teen girl’s death remains open.
‘The case is pretty far from being closed, far from being just put aside as an accident or a civil matter or anything like that,’ Navajo Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Director Michael Henderson told the AP. ‘We’re still very aggressively pursuing to understand the case to the extent to where if there are any criminal elements attached to what happened.’
Jones had allowed Lyssa to go for a walk on a jogging trail over a hill as long as she was back by 5.30pm.
When the teenager didn’t show up by 5.45pm, Jones sent her son out to look for her.
By 6pm, Jones had enlisted her sisters and cousins in the search, according to the Navajo Times.
Jones says she was also bitten on the arm by a dog, part of a pack of ‘about 20’ owned by her cousin’s neighbor, while she was looking for her daughter.
When Jones found her daughter, ‘her legs were all chewed up,’ she recalled.
‘She was gone.’
The neighboring family hid the dogs by the time animal control arrived, but 12 of them were later taken into custody as evidence.
Bringing charges against dog owner
‘They hid the dogs that attacked and killed my daughter from animal control,’ she wrote in a Facebook post dated May 17. ‘What is wrong with these people?’
Fort Defiance is located in Apache County, most of which is part of the Navajo Nation.
Lyssa’s death has since reignited a discussion about free-roaming dogs on tribal lands. She is not the first person to be attacked by the animals, which are known as ‘rez dogs.’
The tragedy renewed discussion across the reservation about how to hold people accountable for their pets.
Some 250,000 stray and neglected dogs roam the Navajo Nation, according to estimates published by the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Tribal lawmakers recently passed a resolution to establish criminal penalties, but Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez vetoed it, saying it didn’t go far enough and needs more input.
Tribal laws toothless
There are only five officers to help address dog attacks in the entire Navajo Nation, which stretches more than 27,000 sq mi across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
Animal control officers are not currently allowed to issue citations over dog attacks because they are not commissioned officers of the Navajo Police Department, according to the Navajo Times.
At least a handful of deaths in the area over the years have been blamed on dog packs, and numerous other people have been injured.
None of the tribe’s animal control laws, which are considered civil offenses, hold dog owners responsible for deaths.
In the meantime, Nez said he would approve $1.2 million to hire more animal control officers.
Michael Henderson, the tribe’s criminal investigations director, said tribal charges are being considered in Upshaw’s death as authorities gather more evidence and await results for specimens collected from the dogs that belonged to a neighbor.
‘The case is pretty far from being closed, far from being just put aside as an accident or a civil matter or anything like that,’ he said.
‘We’re still very aggressively pursuing to understand the case to the extent to where if there are any criminal elements attached to what happened.’
The FBI is conducting some of the lab testing.
Henderson said he has spoken with federal prosecutors whose initial response was that the case is not one that could be charged under a limited set of crimes for which the federal government has jurisdiction on tribal land.
Tribes have concurrent jurisdiction but often seek federal charges because they carry much stiffer penalties than under tribal law according to the dailymail.
The maximum time in jail that the Navajo Nation could impose for any crime, regardless of the severity, is one year.
‘I’m hoping and I’m praying for my daughter to get her justice,’ the victim’s mother said.