Her dogs were her companions and friends, Alexandria Griffin-Heady said Wednesday of the pit bull terriers that, while she was away from home Sunday, killed her little brother in rural Yuba County. But she hates what they have done, she said, and so she has signed papers that will allow them to be put to death.
“It breaks my heart,” she said in her first extended comments to the media since her 9-year-old brother, Tyler Trammell-Huston, was fatally mauled in her small trailer south of Marysville.
“But I loved my brother more.”
Dressed in jeans and a blue sweater, her face pale and her hair pulled back in a bun, Griffin-Heady sat next to her attorney, Roberto Marquez, in his Marysville office and tearfully spoke of her efforts to bring together her fractured family and the tragic consequences of leaving her brother alone with her dogs while she headed to work early Sunday.
Griffin-Heady insisted she had never known the animals, a mother and two offspring, to be aggressive toward humans. Tyler had been around them frequently in recent months, she said, snuggling and playing with them. She said she could not fathom what provoked them to attack the boy. None of the dogs, named Coca, Noah and Athena, had been spayed or neutered, she said.
Tyler was sleeping when she left for her security guard shift, Griffin-Heady said, and the two younger dogs were secured in a crate.
When she returned home a few hours later, she said, she found the dogs loose and Tyler’s body lifeless and bloodied on the floor. “My heart just died,” she said in a hoarse voice. Based on what she saw, she said, Noah, 18-months old, appeared to be the primary culprit.
Griffin-Heady, 24, had been pursuing custody of Tyler, the youngest of five children whose mother was mentally ill and died a homeless drug addict on the streets of Sacramento in 2011. Griffin-Heady recently had relocated from Florida to Northern California and was living on property owned by the adoptive parents of two of her other siblings. Tyler was living with a foster family in Sacramento County, and county Child Protective Services had approved of his overnight visits with his sister.
Family members have told The Sacramento Bee that they believe Griffin-Heady was sincere in her efforts to reunite her siblings, whose childhoods had been painful and chaotic. But they said she was ill-equipped to care for a young boy.
Her aunt, Laura Badeker, repeatedly warned child welfare officials last year that her niece was unstable and urged them to carefully check her background. Griffin-Heady had drifted around the country in recent years, sometimes living on the streets, family members said, and most recently had been living in a motel room in Florida with her pit bulls.
On social media, Griffin-Heady has posted numerous photos and videos of her dogs, mostly images of them licking her face and romping playfully. She recently posted her sentiments about her desire to raise Tyler and “shape him into an amazing man.” Family photos show the blond boy lovingly embracing his sister, and smiling broadly as he posed with his other siblings.
The case has raised myriad questions about who is to blame for Tyler’s death. His sister could face child endangerment or more serious charges if authorities determine that she knew, or should have known, that her dogs were capable of harming the boy. The child’s father, John Huston, who is mentally disabled, is pursuing a lawsuit against Sacramento County Child Protective Services. CPS and another agency that had been helping oversee the boy’s care, EMQ FamiliesFirst, are conducting internal investigations.
Citing Tyler’s death, state Assemblyman Kevin McCarty on Wednesday called for an oversight hearing of the child welfare system, which he said allows “too many kids to slip through the cracks and die.”
“We need to look inward and review the shortcomings in our counties and their child welfare services role and response,” McCarty said.
During her news conference, Griffin-Heady said she and her brothers and sisters endured a horrific upbringing. The siblings, who have four different fathers, scattered after their mother’s death. Griffin-Heady said she left home as a teenager and has wandered around the country in recent years.
Tyler was doing well in the foster system, she said, but she thought his life would be better if he were surrounded by his biological family, including siblings and aunts and uncles.
“I didn’t want him to fall through the cracks,” she said.
She described the trailer in Linda in which she and Tyler slept as a “bedroom.” It lacked a working bathroom, she said, but they used facilities at the adjacent home owned by the adoptive parents of two of her other siblings. She said she had found a home in Olivehurst where she planned to live with Tyler once she gained custody. She had planned to move in Wednesday, she said.
Her brother “was a good boy. He was a smart boy,” she said, crying. He loved to tell corny jokes and was a sensitive soul who wept at the loss of their mother. “That’s how he should be remembered,” she said.
Griffin-Heady said she is worried about facing possible criminal charges in her brother’s death.
“I will never forgive myself for leaving him,” she said. “I said I would protect him.”