PHOENIX — Alicia Sanchez still hasn't wrapped her mind around everything. It's only been one week since her great-grandmother died in her front yard after police said four neighborhood dogs mauled her to death.
"When I received the call my heart sank," Sanchez told 12 News.
Her great-grandmother, 77-year-old Maria Eliza Sebastian Ruiz, built a full life in Phoenix. She was married for 60 years, had five children and 12 grandchildren. She hoped to one day return to her hometown in Mexico.
"We never imagined she’d be going back in those conditions," Sanchez said. "She’s going back in a casket."
Deadly dog attack
On July 6, Sebastian Ruiz was sitting on her front porch at her home near 6th Street and Broadway in Phoenix. She would usually sit outside in the mornings to get some fresh air.
But that morning, investigators said four of her neighbor's Staffordshire Terrier mix dogs came into her yard and attacked her, ultimately killing her.
"You close your eyes and you just imagine," Sanchez said. "Was she asking for help? Was she calling out her kids' names? Begging for somebody to help her?"
Maricopa County Animal Care and Control seized the four dogs after the attack. A spokesperson said they were later euthanized with the owner's permission.
Police arrested the dog's owner, Alejandro Hernandez, on a negligent homicide charge.
During his initial appearance, a prosecutor called Hernandez out.
"He was fully aware that his dogs were vicious and also that the security of the yard he kept them in was completely inadequate," the prosecutor said.
History of violence
Newly released Maricopa County Animal Care and Control records show officers responded to an attack involving the same four dogs in February 2020. Sebastian Ruiz's family said they remember this call, saying the dogs were trying to attack her at the time.
The records say at the time, all the dogs were confined back to Hernandez's home and that he was issued a licensing warning. The owner was also advised to fix the gate at the home.
Sanchez said that never happened.
"It could have been easily prevented if something could have been done," she said.
A spokesperson for Maricopa County Animal Care and Control did not respond to questions about what a licensing warning entails and what happens after a warning.
On the MCACC website, it says that "all dogs over three months of age are required by law to be licensed and vaccinated against rabies."
In April 2021, just a few months before the attack, Animal Control was called again after a neighbor reported the dogs running down the street trying to bite people. Animal Control put all four of the dogs in a truck to impound them, but the report says Hernandez's mother asked to take the dogs back in and that all dogs were "safely returned to her."
Neighbors on the street said they'd seen dogs escape more times than the calls reported.
A week after the attack, Sebastian Ruiz's family is frustrated and flustered.
"You don’t know if you want to cry or yell," Sanchez said.
They're missing their matriarch every day, gathering around the same porch she was sitting on when the dogs reportedly attacked.
"It’s an image that’s really hard to erase in our minds," Sanchez shared.
They also hope to seek justice for Sebastian Ruiz. Sanchez and her family wish Animal Control could have done more.
"We feel they should be as accountable as the owner," she said.
In an email, a spokesperson for Maricopa County Animal Care and Control said they couldn't comment on an active investigation.
12 News tried to contact Hernandez and his attorney but never heard back as of Tuesday night.
At this time, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has not filed any charges and sent the case back to Phoenix Police for further investigation.
If you want to help Sebastian Ruiz's family with funeral expenses, her family set up a GoFundMe account.
12 News on YouTube
Learn more about other 12 News investigations by subscribing to the 12 News YouTube channel and watching our I-Team playlist.