NEW PORT RICHEY — She knocked on the door. It was noon Wednesday and Jackie Frishe wanted to check on her friend Nicole Koezeno, a new mom at age 16. Thomas James Carter Jr. was 7 days old — chubby and pink with a head of thick, black hair.
"Jackie, is that you?" Koezeno said. She sounded sleepy.
Koezeno unlocked the door.
Frishe, 19, stepped inside and heard her friend scream. The baby was dead on the bed. Sometime while Koezeno slept with her newborn, her 45-pound pit bull mix named Sidon mauled Thomas. Authorities said the infant had more than 50 puncture wounds on his tiny body.
Frishe said the bed was covered in blood. She said she and Koezeno tried to resuscitate Thomas.
"There was nothing we could do," Frishe said.
She said Koezeno cradled her son, kissing him, as they waited for paramedics. Thomas was taken to Morton Plant North Bay Hospital, but nothing could be done to help him.
Frishe said Sidon is a few years old and was never aggressive before. She said Koezeno was a good mother.
"She doesn't deserve this at all," Frishe said.
Kevin Doll, spokesman for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, said Koezeno is undergoing toxicology tests to determine why she slept through the attack. The baby's father — Thomas James Carter, 20 — lives at the mobile home on Olsen Street in Moon Lake Estates with Koezeno and another roommate. He was not home at the time of the attack. Doll said Carter woke up at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday and fed the baby, then left for work.
Denise Hilton, manager of Pasco County Animal Services, said there had not been a fatal dog attack in Pasco County in at least 35 years — until Dec. 12 in the same neighborhood. Twenty-month-old Dallas Lee Walters was killed by a relative's Rottweiler-Labrador mix during a birthday party at his great-aunt's house when he dropped a cookie.
Hilton said in both cases, the dogs were not neutered. Hilton said there were no previous complaints about Sidon, who was slated to be euthanized Wednesday night. His head was to be cut off and sent for rabies testing in Tampa. Hilton did not know if Sidon ever had any vaccinations.
Authorities said after Sidon mauled Thomas, he got outside and attacked another dog, Buddy, chained in the back yard. Both dogs suffered bloody wounds. Because of Sidon's behavior, Hilton thought the dog might have rabies.
"This animal should have never been allowed access to the room where this infant was," Hilton said. "We have to protect children from animals being animals."
Her voice was shaken and sad.
"This is tough," she said. "What a tragedy."
Doll said the Sheriff's Office continues to investigate the case. Authorities had been to the home in December when Carter was arrested on a charge of aggravated battery. He and a roommate fought about the cleanliness of the home, a report said. Carter was accused of punching the man so hard that the man had to be flown to Tampa General Hospital for surgery to relieve swelling of his brain. Carter also was arrested in 2007 on charges of possession of controlled substances and burglary, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
According to Koezeno's MySpace page, she is no longer in school but taking classes online. She was a Moon Lake Elementary student of the month in 2002. On her profile page, she said she and Carter have been dating for three years. She writes about him and said they have an "understood, unconditional love."
"That's the kind of feeling you long for, dream about and can't possibly believe it could happen to me . . . Regardless of what life puts us through, i know it'll just make us stronger."
In January, she posted on Carter's MySpace page, where he goes by the name Tommy Gunz.
"Hey daddy," she wrote. She said she loved him and that he will be a father to a baby boy. April 4 "is when he'll take his first breath," she wrote.
Thomas ended up being late and was born April 7.
Jason Koezeno, 18, said his sister was excited about her pregnancy despite her young age, and she had a big baby shower.
He said the mother and father were trying to be a family. "They love each other," he said.
Angela Parrent lives in Moon Lake Estates and said there is a problem with dogs running loose. One killed three of her cats in the autumn, she said. Parrent said she has known Koezeno and her family for years. She said Koezeno's mother lives within walking distance and that Koezeno is one of seven children.
"It tears me up," said Parrent, 46, of the baby's death. "It shouldn't have happened.
"She's just a nice kid."
Tracy Lookado, 30, has known the Koezeno family for years. She said Nicole Koezeno has always been around babies because of her large family.
"This is unbelievable," Lookado said. "She's not a new and naive mother."
Lookado said she shared pregnancy tips with Koezeno.
"She was a glowing new mom," she said. "She was so happy."
Lookado's 45-year-old mother-in-law, Addie Lookado, said she saw Koezeno, Carter and the baby at a nearby Circle K gas station about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. Koezeno waved to Lookado.
"Come see my baby!" Koezeno said.
Thomas was in the pickup truck. Carter fussed over him, tucking in his blanket so he wouldn't be chilly, Lookado said.
"He was so beautiful," Lookado said.
She said Koezeno kept kissing her son. She was happy and bright.
"I just love this baby," Koezeno said. "I love him."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.