RIVERVIEW — The deputies rushed to where they heard the boy's screams, but by the time they arrived the two pit bull terriers were standing over his body, and his ice cream bowl lay by his side.
The dog's owner quickly crated the animals, deputies said, just as he'd done before 4-year-old Logan Shepard and his mother came to visit.
The child was dead before the ambulance arrived.
Stephanie Groulx, 43, had walked her son from their nearby home to his aunt and uncle's house at 12509 Rhodine Road in Riverview Saturday night. It was around 10:30, and the neighborhood has many large, fenced-in yards. Some owners have posted signs cautioning others to "beware of dogs."
Once inside, Logan was given a bowl of ice cream, and the adults left him for the master bedroom to talk. The boy sat alone for a while in the family room, until his interest turned outside.
Deputies think the boy then walked out to the kennels and may have unlatched them himself.
The adults heard the screams, as did two Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office deputies who had a car pulled over 100 yards away.
By the time everyone converged, there was little anyone could do. The boy's uncle, Billy Frederick Sr., surrendered the dogs to authorities after returning them to their crates.
They were later euthanized with the owner's consent.
"So many (dog attacks) occur in the family home, with the family dog, and it happens as a result of children being unsupervised," Hillsborough County Animal Services spokeswoman Marti Ryan said.
Every year about two Floridians die from dog attacks. The majority of deaths are boys between the ages of 1 and 9, according to the state.
In 2010, a pit bull terrier mauled a 7-day-old infant in New Port Richey. The mother had fallen asleep with the baby and the dog in the room together. She was not charged with a crime. And in Ocala that same year, a young girl wandered near a tree where a pit bull was tied. She was attacked and killed. The girl's mother was inside the house.
No charges have been filed against anyone in this latest case. The county had no prior record of responding to the address for animal complaints.
Cars stopped Sunday in front of the Groulx household, as neighbors and family members checked in on Logan's mother and sister.
Many defended the family, saying there was no way of knowing exactly what happened or why the dogs turned on the little boy.
Leslie Sprang has lived in the neighborhood since 1976 and said this is one of the worst tragedies to have hit the community.
He cautioned people against keeping several dogs together, no matter what the breed.
"I don't care whether it's pit bulls or little Shih Tzus, you get them in a group and they can get that pack mentality," Sprang said. "It's dangerous, especially when children are involved."
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Groulx has several photos on her Facebook page of pit bulls. One image reads "I (heart) my pitbull." Above it is a picture of Logan smiling with his eyes closed, and the caption, "My Baby."
Times researchers Natalie Watson and John Martin contributed to this report, as did Times staff writer Jimmy Geurts.
Contact Caitlin Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst. Contact Weston Phippen at email@example.com or (727) 893-8321. Follow @westonphippen.