Animal attack investigation ends with no answers

Published 1:14 pm Thursday, May 2, 2019

PANTEGO — Two and a half months after a Beaufort County teacher was killed in a vicious animal attack, an investigation by the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office has yielded no concrete evidence of what killed her.

The only DNA evidence recovered from the scene was matched to two mixed-breed dogs that belonged to neighbors of Brenda Hamilton, the woman attacked Feb. 15 in Pantego. While Hamilton subsequently died from her injuries on Feb. 18, investigators do not believe that the two dogs were responsible for the killing.

“After the completion of all testing and a review of the scientific and circumstantial evidence in this case, we are unable to make a definitive determination as to what type of canine attacked Brenda Hamilton,” a BCSO press release concluded. “While DNA evidence brings the two domestic canines under suspicion, the observations of those two canines by deputies, animal control officers and investigators tell a different story.”

Since Hamilton was attacked, DNA samples collected from the scene, as well as from 14 domestic dogs in the vicinity, have been under scrutiny at a Western Carolina University genetics laboratory. While more than 49 genetic tests have been conducted throughout the investigation, none have provided evidence of what killed the 77-year-old Pungo Christian Academy teacher.

DNA collected from Hamilton’s jacket and shoe matched the two dogs, both of which were present at the scene after the attack.

DNA samples from six other pieces of evidence, a swab from Hamilton’s ear, a swab from her scalp, the flashlight she carried in her hand, her hooded sweatshirt, her T-shirt and a freshly-killed nutria found at the scene, were determined to be from a domestic canine. While that DNA likely came from the two dogs, according to the BCSO, it could not be matched to a specific animal.

“All other items tested yielded no DNA results,” the BCSO release stated. “While the reason for that is unknown, it is believed those tests were affected because Hamilton was in water up to her shoulders. All testing in this case is now concluded. No items recovered from the scene yielded DNA results indicative of coyote or bear.”

Vanlandingham said that while there was no other DNA evidence found at the scene that pointed to a wild animal, a set of indeterminate tracks was found on the road near the scene of the attack.

“There were some tracks on the highway, but there was no definition,” Vanlandingham said. “They looked like they were made in water, in other words, wet feet walked down that road, which could have been from the two dogs that were found near her.”

In addition to the DNA found on Hamilton’s clothing, traces of human blood were discovered in both dogs’ mouths and on their paw in field tests conducted the same day as the attack. When they were examined, the dogs showed no sign of aggression and there was no mud or blood visible on either animal and neither was wet from being in the ditch where Hamilton was discovered.

“During her walk it was common for her to be accompanied by domestic dogs in the area, including the two dogs found near her the morning of the attack,” the release explained. “Hamilton’s husband reported none of the dogs ever bothered her or displayed any aggression towards her on her daily walks.”

Two days after the attack, both dogs were seized by animal control at the request of the BCSO and were quarantined for observation for 10 days.

“The evidence in this case was reviewed by Beaufort County’s Dangerous Dog

Committee,” the release states. “An Investigator with the Sheriff’s Office, the dog’s owners and neighbors familiar with the dogs all testified before the committee and after a review of the evidence and testimony, the Committee did not find the dogs to be dangerous.”

While those dogs may not have played a role in Brenda Hamilton’s death, whatever did remains undetermined and at large.

“If you take the circumstances and put them all together, this is just one of those freak things that happened,” said Lt. Jim Vanlandingham, head of BCSO criminal investigations. “I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to explain or answer 100% of the questions.”



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