Tshara Gardner, a former Killeen educator and mother of seven, stood outside her home on Elk Ridge Court. Across the street, Timber Ridge Elementary students headed home.
“You move into a neighborhood like this, because you want to be safe,” Gardner said.
The neighborhood did feel safe until Feb. 15. That afternoon, the small cul-de-sac where the neighborhood children played became the site of a vicious dog attack that injured three of her children and shattered the family’s sense of security.
The attack began when a shepherd-malinois mix escaped from the yard of a nearby home and attacked Gardner’s daughter, Adebisi Agunbiade, who was 6 at the time. Adebisi was playing outside the home of a family friend when the attack began.
“I was scared,” said Adebisi, now 7.
Her 12-year-old brother, Adejuwon, also was outside that day. He said he heard screams and saw a dog dragging his little sister in the street. He tried in vain to get the dog to let go of Adebisi.
With the help of a neighbor, Adejuwon eventually was able to get the dog off his sister.
They ran for their home and escaped inside, but not before the dog attacked the small girl several more times and bit the arm of their 5-year-old brother, Av’ry.
The dog also attacked Gardner’s 13-year-old daughter, Ademaya. The attack stopped when a Killeen police officer shot and killed the dog.
Adebisi had the most severe injuries. She was taken to McLane Children’s Hospital Scott & White in Temple and underwent surgery that night. Her left arm is scarred.
But mental scars are far more difficult to cope with, Gardner said.
She noticed a drastic change in her daughter, who was once eager to go play outside.
“She was afraid to step outside,” Gardner said. “She didn’t even want to walk to the mailbox.”
The young girl had nightmares, her mother said, and was constantly afraid that “something bad” would happen to her and her family.
Adebisi was diagnosed with acute post-traumatic stress disorder.
Her older brothers and sisters also struggled to cope with the incident. The children who were attacked, and Gardner herself, have struggled to get back to normal.
“It’s like a domino effect. ... It’s just turned everything upside down,” she said.
Tania Glenn, a psychologist who specializes in PTSD, said the disorder can be especially difficult for young children and teens.
“Kids don’t have the insight and understanding of the world that adults do,” Glenn said. “Many times you see it manifest in their behavior.”
Glenn said that behavior can include intense phobias and night terrors. Symptoms of PTSD in children also can manifest in “acting out” behaviorally, which can sometimes lead to misdiagnosis.
“Many times these kids get diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” Glenn said.
As her family continues to recover, Gardner said she wants to speak out and raise awareness about dog attacks. Reading about the death of 2-year-old Camari Robinson of Killeen, who was killed in a similar dog attack March 1, also played a role in her decision to speak out.
“I was devastated when I heard the news about Camari’s death,” she said.
Camari’s mother, Angela Robinson, has become an outspoken advocate on the issue, urging Killeen officials to re-examine the city’s laws on dangerous animals.
Gardner, too, said she wants dog owners and the public to educate themselves on warning signs of potentially dangerous dogs.
“You can’t wait until the dog attacks someone,” she said.
Officials appear to be listening to residents’ concerns. At a recent workshop, Killeen City Council members and Police Chief Dennis Baldwin discussed possible ways to strengthen the city’s ordinances regarding dog ownership such as requiring all dogs be microchipped and allowing code enforcement and animal control to enforce stricter fencing requirements.
The recommendations now sit with the city’s animal advisory committee, which will review them before presenting them to the council for a vote at a future meeting.
As officials move forward in their efforts to curb dog attacks in Killeen, Gardner and her family work to recover from the trauma of their ordeal.
Adebisi’s injuries are healing, and neighborhood children are playing in the small cul-de-sac again.
“I don’t want my daughter to spend the rest of her life afraid,” Gardner said.