What to Know
- A 5-year-old girl, her 3-year-old brother and mother were attacked by an out-of-control coyote at a park in Westchester County on Sunday
- The girl was bit, but was quickly helped by an off-duty police officer who tackled it and held it down until authorities came to shoot it
- Testing has confirmed the animal was rabid; anyone who has been in contact with it is being evaluated regarding treatment needs
The coyote that pounced on a 5-year-old girl, ripping open her forearm, as she played with her mother and 3-year-old brother at a Westchester playground over the weekend has tested positive for rabies, officials said Tuesday.
The girl's mother, Kasey King-Petrellese, tried to fight off the mangy canine for an agonizing few seconds as it gripped her only daughter by the arm in the mid-afternoon attack Sunday at James M. Carroll Park. She couldn't stop it.
An off-duty Irvington police officer stepped in and tackled the animal, which was then shot by Mount Pleasant police and taken to a facility for testing. Officials say everyone who came into contact with the coyote or its saliva is being evaluated to assess any needs for preventive rabies treatment.
King-Petrellese told News 4 earlier this week that the coyote charged her family at full speed.
“I’m telling you it was like a cheetah,” she said. “I took my foot and I kicked him as hard as I could in his face, which knocked him to the ground and he stumbled a little. When he got up he swung over to my daughter’s side and bit her arm.”
"I thought it had her by the back of her neck," King-Petrellese added. "At this point I just took it as an out, I pressed it into the grass and just repeatedly punched it in the face. And that's when the gentleman hopped onto the coyote, pinned him down and said, 'Get out of here, get out of here.'"
The officer, Arcangelo Liberatore, said he mounted the coyote and had his hands around its neck, trying to "squeeze the life out of it" to stop the attack on the child. He didn't kill it, but sat on the out-of-control creature until police arrived.
The little girl, Natalia, says he kept her calm.
"I wasn't screaming, I wasn't panicking, I wasn't scared," she said. I was just asking for help, and that man save my life."
Natalia’s 3-year-old brother was not hurt, but the siblings and mother went to the hospital to be looked at. Natalia had rabies shots, stitches and antibiotics.
Police say they have had several coyote sightings in the area, but never have they attacked a person before.
Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner says residents who encounter a coyote should yell, scream and throw things at it.
"You're never gonna get rid of all the coyotes, so the best approach is to learn how to live with coyotes," he said.
The county health department says coyote sightings may be common, but unless they have rabies, it's very unlikely for them to interact with humans. And that kind of unusual behavior -- like attacking a family at a park in the middle of the afternoon -- could be the first sign of rabies in an animal.
Rabies can be fatal if not treated.
Any physical contact with a wild or unfamiliar animal should be immediately reported to a health care provider. All animal bites or contacts with animals suspected of having rabies must be reported to the Westchester County Department of Health at (914) 813-5000, 24 hours a day.