A 9-year-old girl riding her bike near her family’s Detroit home died after an attack by three pit pulls Monday afternoon, after the girl’s father said he’d warned the dogs’ owner that his fence was too flimsy to hold back the animals.
“We had an argument about it just last week and he just didn’t take care of his dogs properly. He could have prevented this,” the father, Armando Hernandez, told Detroit radio station WWJ.
The girl, Emma Valentina Hernandez, was taken to Children’s Hospital of Michigan and died from her injuries in what the Wayne County medical examiner ruled was an accident, reports The Detroit News.
The 33-year-old male dog owner was arrested and remains in custody pending charges, Detroit police spokesman Dan Donakowski tells PEOPLE. His name was not released.
“Just, I’m speechless,” the girl’s father said, according to WWJ. “There’s no words. I feel so empty. I don’t know what to do. I’m really heartbroken right now. I can’t explain it.”
“Just over and over, I keep replaying it,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep. I haven’t slept. Just, every time I close my eyes, man, I see my baby girl.”
“I tried my best. I tried CPR, I tried helping her. I couldn’t do it. I did everything I could in my power to just — she was gone. She was gone when I reached her,” he said.
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
An unknown person shot and killed one of the dogs in an effort to halt the attack, said police. The other two dogs were captured and turned over to animal control.
A neighbor, Deborah Golden, said she heard the screaming when she came out of her house and tried to help the child.
“I seen the little girl flat in her back with the bite marks and part of her neck hanging off,” Golden said, reports Detroit TV station WXYZ. “I started CPR and I had the dad grab the neck and hold it,” she said.
Another man, Edward Cruz, said he “grabbed a brick and threw it right at the dog,” reports the outlet. “They all ran and I stood next to the girl to make sure she was okay and I yelled out for help.”
Emma “was a wonderful child who touched the lives of those around her,” her family wrote in tribute on a GoFundMe page requesting donations for her funeral expenses. “She leaves behind a family that loves her immensely.”
“Emma dedicated her life to school work, playing and enjoying life with her family,” they wrote. “Quick to get a head start on school work. She was such a smart and silly girl. Loved to be outdoors and play with her cousins. A beautiful soul inside and out.”
Her father said that in November 2017, police were called and logged a complaint about the dogs, “but they didn’t follow up on it,” he said, according to WWJ. “The dogs stayed there loose, wild, and the guy didn’t feed them. The poor dogs, you know, I don’t blame them.”
Police say the investigation is continuing.