Deputies watched dogs 'eating rib cage' of Virginia woman, 22, during mauling, sheriff says

Deputies found a Virginia woman in the woods and saw her two pit bull dogs “eating [her] rib cage,” the sheriff said on Monday about the “grisly” mauling of the 22-year-old who was found dead after taking her pets for a walk.

Bethany Stephens, 22, was found about 8:20 p.m. Thursday in a wooded area in Goochland, WTVR reported. Her father discovered her body guarded by “two very large, brindle-colored pit bull dogs,” who were Stephens’ pets that friends said she loved.

“Let me cut right to the chase, the most important detail that we did not release because we were worried about the well-being of the family is that in the course of trying to capture the dogs early Friday morning...we turned and looked…I observed, as well as four other deputy sheriffs, the dogs eating the ribcage on the body,” Goochland County Sheriff James Agnew said in a news conference. 

VIRGINIA WOMAN KILLED IN 'GRISLY MAULING' BY HER DOGS, COPS SAY

Agnew held a news conference and released details on Stephens’ death after a long discussion with her family to release the information, WTVR reported.

“The injuries were very severe,” he added. “The most prevalent damage…the damage was so extensive [on the body] that there was nothing left to compare the bite marks to.”

Agnew said he and the deputies decided to capture the dogs, who were later euthanized, after the family gave permission. Authorities did not suspect foul play in the death and said no strangulation marks were found on the woman’s body.

“We had a number of witnesses came forward and we were able to put a time frame together and people’s movements together and they don’t fit with that particular narrative,” the sheriff said. “Having said that, we are still following up on those; we are still doing forensic tests.”

"The most prevalent damage…the damage was so extensive [on the body] that there was nothing left to compare the bite marks to."

- Goochland County Sheriff James Agnew

He said small bite marks were found on the body and the wounds didn’t puncture Stephens’ skull, ruling out that a larger animal, such as a bear, was to blame for the attack.

It’s still unclear what led to the deadly mauling, but a man who used to work with the Stephens said the pet owner loved the canines and was very experienced working with animals, according to WTVR. Other people also said the dogs were social, passive and had a “significant bond” with Stephens.

Bethany Lynn Stephens

Bethany Stephens was mauled by the dogs while taking them out on a walk.  (Facebook)

But in the time leading up to the attack, the dogs were a “little bit neglected,” Sgt. Mike Blackwood said.

MASSACHUSETTS BOY, 7, MAULED BY PIT BULLS, COPS SAY

Blackwood said Stephens had left the dogs with her father. The indoor dogs were then held up outside “in the cold” in a small kennel. Stephens would return home about five times a week to see the canines.

“[Stephens’ father] wasn’t taking care of them — it wasn’t his responsibility,” Blackwood said.

Agnew confirmed the medical examiner said Stephens was on her “menstrual period,” but added: “But I don’t think there’s any way we can definitively say what caused the attack.”

Katherine Lam is a breaking and trending news digital producer for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @bykatherinelam