6-year-old girl dies after dog attack in Jacksonville home

Family was pet sitting dog that attacked girl; dog likely to be euthanized

By Destiny McKeiver - Multi-media journalist, Jennifer Ready - Reporter, Crystal Chen - Assignment editor/reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A 6-year-old girl attacked by a dog Sunday morning has died, according to her father.

Police said Jaelah Smith was attacked by a dog the family was pet sitting in their Arlington home.

In a message to News4Jax, Devin Holcomb wrote:

"Unfortunately my princess is no longer with us. I would like for you guys to keep my family in your prayers"

Police and firefighters were called to a house on Herrick Drive about 10:15 a.m. Sunday by a neighbor who heard screaming and saw the girl's mother carry the girl's unconscious body outside.

“I just kept hearing somebody (yell), 'Help me, help me!'" Timothy Hightower told News4Jax. “She came out of the house and laid the baby down right there and told us to call the paramedics, and that’s what we did.”

Jaelah was taken to Memorial Hospital with what police described as “very serious, life-threatening injuries.” She was transferred to Wolfson Children's Hospital, where she later died.

The girl's 7- and 9-year-old siblings were not hurt.

News4Jax has contacted the medical examiner's office to learn Jaelah's official cause of death.

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Jaelah's family with funeral expenses.

Neighbors mourn

Balloons and flowers were left at the family’s door Wednesday after word spread that Jaelah had died. Neighbors said they just want the family to know they’re praying and will do what they can to help. 

Kathy Deane said she would often see the girl’s mom going to work. She even saw the family the morning of the attack. 

“I had knocked on their door at 10:15 when they came from church. A little dog was out and we knocked on their door,” Deane said.

She said the neighborhood was saddened by the news the little girl had died after the attack.

“They hadn’t been here that long, but every time I talked with them, they were all nice people,” Deane said. “The kids were well-behaved. The little one was real sweet. She seemed to be very concerned, a good mother. The children were well-behaved and nice.”

What's next

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office believes the dog that bit Jaelah was a pit bull terrier. The dog, which does not belong to Jaelah's family, was picked up by Animal Care and Protective Services and placed on a 10-day quarantine and is being medically observed.

According to Florida Statute, because the dog's bite resulted in a death, the dog will be euthanized after the 10-day quarantine unless the owner files an appeal. If an appeal is filed, the dog will be held while the appeal is pending.

Police said more than one dog was in the home at the time, and the dog that attacked Jaelah was not the family’s pet, but a dog they were watching while friends were on vacation. It's unclear what the dog's owner plans to do as far as filing an appeal.

A second dog was also removed from the home Sunday as a precaution.

John Holzbaur, an attorney not affiliated with the case, said the dog's owner could be held liable in Jaelah's death "if the state can prove reckless disregard in this attack."

That could mean six months in jail or a $500 fine.

On Tuesday, News4Jax learned that the Florida Department of Children and Families was also investigating the attack, looking into what was going on in the home at the time and if there are additional safety concerns.

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