CORINNA — The dog that attacked and killed a 7-year-old boy on Saturday was not registered by its owner and later was euthanized at the owner’s request, town and law enforcement officials said Monday.

Hunter Bragg, who was killed by the dog at the 207 Moody’s Mills Road home of Gary Merchant, was playing in the yard with two other children, the Penobscot County sheriff said at a news conference Monday afternoon in Bangor. Sheriff Troy Morton said that details of the attack are “sensitive” and are not being made public.

Hunter’s father, Jeremy Bragg, 35, was also at the residence during the attack, but it wasn’t clear if he witnessed it.

Merchant, who owns the adult male pit bull, requested that the dog be euthanized by an area veterinarian, Morton said.

The dog was not registered with the town, but the seven other dogs Merchant had on the property were, said Town Manager Serena Bemis-Goodall.

“My understanding is that (Merchant) took the dog in for someone else just within the last couple of months,” she said. “It was not registered, otherwise we would have known about it.”

She and police said the dog was a pit bull, which is a catch phrase for a number of different types of terriers and not a specific breed.

Hunter was a student at Downeast Community School in Bangor, an elementary school for kindergarten through third-graders.

Stacey Merchant, Gary Merchant’s wife and a relative of Hunter Bragg, posted a photo of the boy on her Facebook page Sunday and wrote, “My sweet little Hunter there is nothing we can say right now that will make this alright.”

She wrote that the guilt that was building up inside her and her husband was “heart wrenching,” and “I don’t know how I will ever recover from this. You were so young” to be taken from the family.

Asked at Monday’s press conference about whether criminal charges are being considered, Morton said authorities are still actively investigating the case.

Corinna Animal Control Officer Charles Gould also declined to give specifics of what happened Monday, like Morton, citing the ongoing investigation. Morton said in a news release that the attack was reported to police at 5:15 p.m. Saturday. When deputies arrived, the boy was already dead, Morton said. No one else was injured in the attack, he said.

Under state law, dog owners who fail to register their dogs are subject to a fine of up to $100.

A person who owns or keeps a dog that kills, assaults or injures another person is subject to a fine of between $250 and $1,000 and can also be ordered to pay restitution, according to the state’s dangerous dogs statute.

The Maine Center for Disease Control does not track the number of dog bites reported each year in the state, according to spokesman John Martins, but according to the federal Center for Disease Control, about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the U.S.

The Corinna attack was the 14th dog-bite fatality in the U.S. in 2016, including 11 deaths that pit bulls or pit bull mixes were responsible for, according to the group National Pit Bull Victim Awareness, a group that advocates for responsible dog ownership with a particular emphasis on pit bull-type dogs.

While dogs of any breed can bite or attack humans or other animals, pit bull bites can often result in the most severe injuries because of the strength of the breed, said Patrick Faucher, president of the board of directors for the Maine Animal Control Association and the town of Oakland’s animal control officer.

Faucher said he could not recall a recent fatality in the state caused by a dog attack, and said it has “probably been years” since one was reported. The association also does not keep statewide data on dog bites or injuries from bites.

According to the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in five people bitten by a dog becomes infected, placing the victim at risk for illness or even death.

Children are most at risk for dog bites. Among children, the rate of dog-bite-related injuries is highest among those 5 to 9 years old, the CDC says. More than half of dog bite injuries occur at home and involve dogs that are familiar to family members.

Without a complete picture of what unfolded at the Corinna home Saturday, Faucher said it is hard to evaluate the situation.

“Pit bulls are basically guard dogs and many people train them to be that way,” he said. “I’m not sure if that was the case here, but there are also many people who have great pit bulls. It’s socialization that makes the difference.”

Gould, the town’s animal control officer, was called to the Moody’s Mills Road property last year for a noise complaint related to the dogs, Bemis-Goodall said.

In March 2015, Gould found four dogs at the property that were not registered, but Bemis-Goodall said that Merchant “did exactly what animal control asked him to do” and registered the animals.

She said she was not sure who the dog in the attack previously belonged to or why the person had asked Merchant to care for it.

Saturday’s attack in Corinna is not related to a 2014 incident in which a group of pit bulls in the same town attacked and injured another dog on Nokomis Road, according to Bemis-Goodall.

‘WE’RE ALL GRIEVING’

At the Moody’s Mills Road home where the boy was killed, a man briefly stepped outside at about 11:15 a.m. Monday and asked reporters to give the family and their neighbors space.

“We’re all dealing with this as we have to,” said the man, who declined to give his name. “It’s family. We’re all grieving.”

Family of Hunter Bragg on Monday set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for the boy’s funeral expenses.

“Hunter was loved by so many people. He always had a huge smile on his face and brought joy to everywhere he went. He had a bubbly personality and was always a riot,” Jennifer McClure, an aunt of the boy, writes on the GoFundMe page. “He has so many people that are devastated that he is gone and so many people that loved him dearly. He was his Aunt Jenny’s ‘Cutie Patootie,’ his Nana’s ‘Little man’ and always nana’s boy, he was everyone’s buddy.

“He was taken from everyone at such a young age, but we all know that his mom is now with him and looking after him up in Heaven.”

The boy’s mother, Jessica Rose McClure, died in January 2012 at the age of 27. Her obituary in the Bangor Daily News noted she had three children, Mackenzie, Justin and Hunter. No cause of death was given.

In a statement to the Morning Sentinel Tuesday morning, Betsy Webb, the superintendent of Bangor schools, said that Hunter was “a happy, well-mannered student and his contagious smile brought joy to all.”

She said the Bangor school community was saddened by his loss and offered condolences to his family and friends.

“He was kind, respectful, and often was seen skipping down the hallways,” Webb said. “Hunter enjoyed reading, writing, and his teacher describes him as a hard worker with a mathematical mind.”

She said counseling and support is being provided to Downeast school’s students and staff, and encouraged parents with questions about how best to discuss the situation with their children to call the school principal or counselor.

‘EVERYONE SHOULD BE UPSET’

Complaints about aggressive or loud dogs are not unusual in town, according to Bemis-Goodall, but she said the severity of the recent attack has brought the issue to the forefront.

“No matter what town you live in, people should be shaken up,” she said. “A 7-year-old child lost his life. Everyone should be upset over this.”

Joshua Eldridge, who grew up across the road from the ranch home where dogs could be heard barking in a penned area in the back Monday, said he was in Corinna helping his mother on Saturday when the quiet rural road turned into a parade of ambulances and police cruisers.

Eldridge said he has seen a pit bull-type dog outside and that the home has a number of dogs.

“They are barking a lot and they looked stressed,” he said. “It’s just tragic. This stuff doesn’t happen. I feel that it’s a horrific story. I heard there was possibly another child that witnessed it. That’s what’s getting at me a little bit — that little girl is possibly mentally destroyed for the rest of her life witnessing it.”

By late morning Monday, several television stations and other news media had gathered at the home, where the dooryard and grounds were a clutter of vehicle tires and toys. Dogs could be heard barking in a penned area behind the house, which is a mile down the gravel road from busy Route 7 connecting Newport and Dexter.

Eldridge said neighbors in the three other houses in the neighborhood surrounded by hay fields and woods do not know the Merchant family well. He said they have lived there for about two years.

“I thought something possibly happened with a dog (when emergency responders came Saturday),” he said. “They have a few big dogs. When there’s a troubled dog that’s possibly questionable around a child — we’ve had to dispose of one in our own family. It’s the responsible thing to do.

“I’ve got that stomach feeling of sadness. Having children of your own — you couldn’t imagine just to witness that, to even be in the presence of it.”

In a March 2015 video posted to Merchant’s Facebook page, a black dog identified as a pit bull named Shadow can be seen near a dog gate and several barking puppies. Merchant wrote that the dog got sick and died from a tumor.

Raymond Freve, interim superintendent of Regional School Unit 19, which includes the towns of Corinna, Dixmont, Etna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra, Plymouth and St. Albans, told the Press Herald Sunday that Hunter Bragg was visiting an RSU 19 student at the Corinna home. RSU 19 had grief counselors available Monday at the school for any student or staff member who might need to talk to someone.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow


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