Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Autopsy may explain tragedy

Probe continues as residents mourn

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It is one of the first tragic cases of its kind ever seen in Manitoba.

And it has cast a wide net of despair -- and mystery -- as investigators continue probing why two apparently good-natured dogs inflicted fatal injuries on a seven-year-old girl.

Gordon Holens, a sub-inspector and statistician with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, told the Free Press autopsy results may provide some answers into Sunday's deadly incident near Oakbank. His office is working closely with the RCMP, who haven't ruled out laying criminal charges.

Investigators are looking for the type of injuries, and how many were inflicted, as part of the probe, said Holens.

Gracie Herntier-Clark was pronounced dead at Children's Hospital in Winnipeg after being attacked by two Alaskan malamutes named Bear and Shadow while visiting family friends and playing outside. RCMP say she did have adult supervision, but may have been left alone with the animals for just a minute or two.

'We don't need to speak to anyone in the slightest' -- distraught-sounding owner of dogs that killed seven-year-old Gracie Herntier-Clark

The dogs' owner had little to say when reached by telephone at his residence Tuesday afternoon.

"We don't need to speak to anyone in the slightest," the man told the Free Press. He sounded distraught and lashed out at media for their coverage, which he said included several news cameras stationed outside the home.

"Don't put people on the road surrounding our house. You guys are inappropriate," he said before hanging up.

The family of the young victim has not commented publicly, but many friends and classmates have expressed shock and sadness over the tragedy. Gracie, a Grade 2 student at St. Andrews School, has been described as a bright, inquisitive girl. She lived with her grandparents and frequently visited the home where the attack occurred.

Holens said his office will sit down with RCMP officers, the Children's Advocate and other interested parties to determine whether the public might be served by a more thorough review such as an inquest.

"Every death that is not natural is reviewed," Holens said. An inquest would be valuable "if it is determined that there would be some value in calling an inquest into this death, and that it could minimize the chances of such a death occurring again," he said.

Holens said he's only aware of a handful of other deadly dog attacks in Manitoba, but they involved stray animals killing people. In this case, family pets inflicting the damage may make it unprecedented.

The two dogs are being held by animal control officials in the RM of Springfield. A decision on their fate hasn't been made yet. RCMP are trying to determine what may have set them off, but that could prove difficult with no witnesses to the incident.

A criminal investigation will likely involve consultation with senior justice officials and could take months. Typically, a charge of negligence would be considered, but to prove such an offence, the dog owners would have to be guilty of "a wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons" either through commission or omission of an act.

Breeders told the Free Press malamutes are typically friendly dogs that are good around children if trained properly. They are commonly used as sled dogs. Neighbours in the area also report having positive encounters with the two animals, with one describing them as "giant teddy bears" that loved children.

According to animalpeoplenews.org, there have been five deadly attacks in the United States and Canada involving malamutes since 1982. Another eight incidents involved serious but non-fatal injuries. Of the 13 total victims, 11 were children.

Last month, a large malamute killed a six-day-old baby in England. No charges have been laid.

Deadly dog attacks are rare in Canada, with typically an average of about one per year. The vast majority happen in remote northern locales and involve sled-dog breeds. The last known incident in Manitoba occurred in January 2013 when a 15-year-old girl was mauled to death by several wild dogs roaming Gods Lake First Nation.

Prior to that, Holens said it's been ages since dogs killed a human in the province.

www.mikeoncrime.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 19, 2014 A3

History

Updated on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 9:08 AM CDT: Corrects typo, corrects name of one of the dogs, adds links

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