Family pit bull kills Minneapolis boy
7-year-old's father shoots pet after trying to stop attack in their basement
Frederick Melo and Mara Gottfried, Twin Cities Pioneer Press
The pit bull that killed 7-year-old Zachary King Jr. on Thursday afternoon was a "huge, full-grown monster" with no love for people, according to a relative.
Bert Robinson, the boy's cousin, said he could see meanness in the dog. It was kept tied up in the basement of the King family's North Minneapolis home.
Its name was Face, and with its partner, Ginger, the dog had produced at least two litters, which the Kings gave away as gifts to friends and family.
"Ginger could socialize," Robinson said. "You couldn't pet that other one."
Zachary was mauled to death in his basement. His father, Zachary King Sr., was bitten on the arm while trying to protect the child, police said. The elder King then shot and killed the dog.
Authorities called the incident the first fatal dog attack in the metro area in at least 17 years.
The boy was pronounced dead at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. His father was treated at the hospital and released.
Face was tied to a post in a basement at 3530 Humboldt Ave. N. when the dog attacked the boy shortly after 1 p.m., said Minneapolis police Lt. Amelia Huffman. Zachary had severe bites to his throat, she said.
The dog had bitten people twice in the past, said Minneapolis spokesman Matt Laible.
Police haven't determined what caused Thursday's attack.
"Any consideration of charges at this point is premature," Huffman said. "Investigators are still trying to piece together what happened."
Animal control officers removed Ginger, the female pit bull, and five puppies from the home afterward, Laible said.
Neighbors and other family members expressed shock and sadness as they remembered Zachary. The only boy among four children, he was a proud older sibling to his 3-year-old sister, Deanne Zenae King.
"He finally got to be a big brother," said Robinson, 35.
Tameara Freeman, 11, and her sister, Teea Freeman, 8, recalled petting the adult dogs during a recent birthday party at the King home. Face was kept in the basement; Ginger roamed free.
"I used to go down there. The dogs were nice," Tameara said. "They didn't look mean at all."
But Zachary's grandfather, Robert L. King Jr., said he remembers Face as being unapproachable.
"I can't stand pit bulls. I told my son that. But there's pit bulls in every other house up and down this street," Robert King said. "This generation - strong dogs, strong this, strong that, bigger cars."
Michael Bownik, who lives nearby, has testified against neighbors who have kept vicious dogs in their homes. He has seen friends holed up indoors or stuck inside cars for hours when angry dogs were loose.
Pit bulls, seen as a symbol of status in some inner-city neighborhoods,
are seemingly everywhere, he said.
"Pit bulls are a big problem in the neighborhood," said Bownik, 48.
Beth DeLaForest, a director with A Rotta Love Plus, a Minnesota rescue group for pit bulls and Rottweilers, said that although her heart goes out to the King family, she believes there were warning signs.
"The combination of factors here was a big accident waiting to happen, regardless if you have pit bulls or Labrador retrievers," said DeLaForest, who owns two pit bulls.
All un-neutered dogs are more likely to attack than dogs that have had the surgery, DeLaForest said.
The fact that the dog was tied up in the basement was also a red flag, she said.
"Statistics also show that when your dog is tethered, there is a higher bite or attack incidence," she said.
Barbara Johnson, the Minneapolis City Council member who represents Ward 4 where the incident took place, expressed shock Thursday.
"I just am astounded at the number of people that put their children in jeopardy by taking risks like this," Johnson said. "I truly do believe there are a lot of people breeding these animals to fight them, irresponsible owners, and we as a city have to do something about it ... it's just such an absolutely needless tragedy."
In 2005, Face bit a trespasser on the family's property. Because of the circumstances it was considered a "provoked bite" and didn't lead to action from the city, Laible said.
In 2006, Face bit a man, Laible said. That bite was considered minor.
A rabies test will be conducted on the dog's remains, Laible said.
Several dog attacks have been reported in the Twin Cities area in recent years, but aside from a fatal attack in Elroy, Wis., in 2002, when six Rottweilers killed a 10-year-old girl, none appears to have been deadly.
In St. Paul, reports of dog bites have dropped.
Since 1966, the lowest numbers of dog bites were in 2004, 2005 and 2006. The peak was 1,346 in 1971. The lowest annual total was 156 in 2004.
As of May, there had been 37 reported dog bites in St. Paul, of which 15 involved pit bulls.
In June, Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, said he would push legislation next year to make it illegal to own breeds of dogs he deems a threat to public safety.