North Carolina

Did a wolf or coyote kill NC teacher? DNA tests say maybe, but experts disagree

The death of North Carolina school teacher Brenda Hamilton in a mysterious animal attack last week has been linked to an unknown animal with canine DNA.

That includes the possibilities of a wolf, coyote or vicious dog, says a release from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.

As of Friday, the investigators still had not announced a determination of what was responsible for her death.

Little is publicly known about what played out Feb. 15 on Indian Run Road in Pantego. The extent of 77-year-old Hamilton’s injuries has not been released, other than to say they were severe and she was in critical condition before dying at Vidant Pitt Hospital.

Hamilton was a high school English teacher at Pungo Christian Academy in Bellhaven.

Investigators are collecting DNA from dogs in the area of the attack to determine whether one of them might have killed Hamilton as she took her morning walk.

There are red wolves in Beaufort County and plenty of coyotes, state officials told the Charlotte Observer. The county of about 50,000 people is remote and rural, located in a coastal area where the Pamlico River spills into the Pamlico Sound.

Still, if it was a coyote that attacked Hamilton, it would be the first time ever in North Carolina that the unruly coyote population has been linked to the killing of a human, said Jodie Owen, spokeswoman for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

“In fact, there have only been two fatal attacks of coyotes in North America and both incidences involved coyotes that were heavily habituated to humans, i.e., being fed,” Owen told the Charlotte Observer.

However, there have been multiple non-fatal coyote attacks on humans in North Carolina, including two last year in Davie County involving children. In March, a 9-year-old girl was attacked on her porch and in May, a father and daughter were attacked and bitten in their backyard, the Charlotte Observer reported in May.

A rabid coyote was captured and killed north of Charlotte in February 2018, after a family filmed it attacking and biting their car near Huntersville.

State officials told the Charlotte Observer that it’s highly unlikely that the the attacker was a wolf.

The only wolf known to live in North Carolina is the endangered red wolf, a species that environmentalists have been trying to re-introduce to North Carolina after it was killed out in much of North America.

“This terrible tragedy almost certainly does not involve wolves,” said a statement sent to the Charlotte Observer from Pete Benjamin, a field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“There are very few red wolves remaining in Beaufort County and based on a telemetry flight conducted the day before the incident, no known red wolves are located in the vicinity.”

Benjamin said a red wolf has never attacked a human during the 32-year effort to re-introduce them back into the wild. He said his office is working with the investigation into Hamilton’s death.

He believes that it was more likely a dog that attacked and killed Hamilton, noting that data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows there are 4.7 million reported dog bites in this country each year.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, the LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.