By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
It was 1:05 Thursday afternoon and Dee Dee Juarez sat at work, looking at her phone – no missed calls.
This is the first year she's allowed her 10-year-old son, Misael, to walk to and from the school bus stop without an adult escort. After all, he's in fourth grade, and the school bus drops him off only a couple of blocks from their home on Gilmer Street, near Avenue E.
Thursday, the kids got out of school early – they'd be home by 1 p.m.
Every day, Misael calls her when he and his classmate and neighbor, Marissa Torres, get home.
But Misael had not called. Dee Dee waited another few minutes. She began to worry something had happened, as parents often do.
Turns out, something did.
"We were walking home and there was a pit bull," Misael said of that Thursday afternoon, just minutes after the bus dropped him and Marissa at the stop. "It was across the street, then it decided to come after us ? started sniffing us, so I started to walk faster. First, it started to chase me, but it couldn't get my backpack. So, it decided to go after her backpack."
Fortunately, Misael said the dog didn't go after his body, only his bag.
Marissa said the same.
"I was running, then I stopped because I thought it was chasing him," Marissa said. "I didn't know he was behind me. I was running in circles. It went on top of me and took my book bag off. Then it pushed me off."
The young girl said she fought with the dog initially, not letting the animal get away with her bag without a fight.
"I grabbed it and was pulling it, and then it slipped, and he took it all the way in the back," Marissa said.
The dog took his prize to an apartment complex two streets away. The kids ran to their homes.
Back at Marissa's home, her mother, Jessica Alveril, was asleep on the couch when her hysterical daughter burst through the door, crying.
"She said a dog took her book bag. She said she felt its nose on the back of her neck," Alveril said. "We've had some problems with other dogs in the neighborhood, so I just said let's go get it. I was just going to walk over there. Good thing we went in the car."
Marissa said her mother took her to get the bag from the yard, two streets away. It lay on the ground between two young pit bulls, acting as sentries guarding a prized treasure.
Both were tethered.
But the situation wasn't over yet.
"The same one that attacked them ran from the apartments and jumped on the car. We didn't even see him coming," Alveril said. "I was like 'Holy ...!' He scratched up the passenger side, the front. ... He was biting on the wing on the back of my car.
"Finally I made it to the end of the street, and he was in front of the car. I didn't want to run over him. He finally moved, then he chased us halfway down the street."
Alveril said the animal control officer who arrived did retrieve the bag safely, which was undamaged – except for a few bite marks on the upper part of the left shoulder strap – but she was not pleased with the assessment.
"He said they couldn't do nothing since no one was bit," Alveril said. "So then what? We have to wait till someone gets bit or killed?"
Juarez said she was told the same thing.
City considers change
But a look at the Killeen ordinance reveals that animal control can do something.
The current ordinance makes a distinction between a vicious and dangerous animal. It causes a lot of problems in interpretation, municipal prosecutor Holli Clements said.
While the ordinance requires evidence of a bite for vicious animals, it only requires threatening and aggressive behavior to classify a dangerous animal.
Clements is at the forefront of some sweeping changes under consideration by the city council to eliminate confusion by consolidating the two categories.
The changes have been the subject of months of debate by the animal advisory committee, which has recommended the revisions be approved by the council on Tuesday.
If the story told by the two families is true, the dog in question could be classified as a dangerous animal, leading to hearings and requirements for the owner.
Clements said the ordinance, even if approved Tuesday, could not have a bearing on this case because the city had not approved it yet. But it's going to help in the future.
"It's just going to be more enforceable at all levels," Clements said. "Once it gets to the court, there's going to be a big difference. ... You're going to have to be responsible."
Fortunately for the Juarez family, a wooden privacy fence keeps animals and unwelcome visitors out of the backyard, where the kids spend most of their time outside of school.
Marissa's older brother, Martin, said the same dog, or one with similar markings, attempted to force his way through the back gate, scratching the door on a Saturday afternoon about three weeks ago.
For now, Juarez said the incident has only reinforced her fear and loathing for dogs.
She said Friday was the last time her son will walk home from the bus stop alone.
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568.