The first sign that something was wrong was the bloody dog.
The animal ran inside its home on Aloha Drive in Vidor, Texas, where Ashley Phillips was visiting a friend.
Phillips’ five-year-old son, Tanner Smith, had been jumping on a trampoline in the fenced-in yard, where the dog had come from and another dog had been.
“When one of the dogs came running in the house and was covered in blood,” Tanner’s aunt, Melinda Greathouse, 28, told INSIDE EDITION. “That’s when my sister ran outside and they found Tanner’s body next to the porch.”
The homeowner’s two pit bulls had mauled the vivacious kindergartener, who was thought to be playing outside under the supervision of the homeowner. But the man was not there during the attack and no one heard the child scream as he was severely bitten more than one dozen times, including once in an artery in his neck, Greathouse said.
Emergency responders rushed Tanner to a nearby hospital, but he could not be saved.
“His whole left side of his head had a hole in it. His ear was gone. There was a lot of what looked like road rash on his face. Did they drag him?” Greathouse tearfully wondered aloud. “He didn’t cry out. Neighbors were out there around that time and they didn’t hear anything. They just heard my sister cry out.”
Tanner was only two days away from turning six when he was attacked. He wanted a ‘Scooby-Doo’-themed birthday party to celebrate and his family was happy to oblige the boy who had been through so much.
“Tanner was born with half a heart,” Greathouse said. “He went through several heart surgeries, from the time he was born up until two years ago. He overcame all that. He never let his heart problem stop him. We thought he outlived all of that.”
Tanner was remembered on what would have been his sixth birthday by his classmates at Vidor Elementary School, where students and faculty had a cake in his honor, and at Lollipop Stop Daycare where balloons were released into the air.
“Tanner told them he was turning 21,” his aunt said with a laugh.
Decorations for the Scooby-Doo party were still in his mother’s car days after the mauling.
“Now we’re making funeral arrangements, ordering flowers, picking a cemetery plot. Nobody is supposed to do that for their child,” Greathouse said. “It’s just so hard. We don’t know what happened. Was he jumping on the trampoline? Was he running from the dogs? Did he fall? Was that how they got him? If his heart slowed down; we don’t know.”
The same dogs were quarantined for 10 days in December of last year after they bit a 9-year-old girl and her mother as the pair walked by the home, police said.
The dogs allegedly got out of their yard by digging a hole below the fence and made puncture wounds in the victims’ skin, but the injuries did not meet the criteria under Texas law to deem the dogs dangerous, cops said.
“Isn’t that terrible? It really is. It’s awful that it comes down to that (criteria). If something had been done then, a life could have been saved,” Greathouse said.
The dogs' owner paid the injured parties' medical bills and appropriately restrained his dogs after the 2014 incident, police said. But that comes as little comfort to Tanner’s family.
“Ashley didn’t know the dogs were that way. She didn’t know… otherwise they wouldn’t have been there,” Greathouse said.
The man assumed to be supervising Tanner rushed home when he learned what happened and he put the dogs down himself. Officials at the Orange County Sheriff's Department said criminal charges are not expected to be filed against the owner since the dogs were appropriately confined.
Neither that man nor anyone else who lives in that home has contacted Tanner’s family since he was killed, Greathouse alleged.
“They have not sent any condolences. They will not return any phone calls,” she said.
IE’s attempts to reach the dogs’ owners were unsuccessful.
Visitation for Tanner will be held at Memorial of Vidor at 6 p.m. on Friday, October 23. The funeral will be held at Turning Point Church at 10 a.m. on Saturday, October 24. The family has also set up a donation account through Wells Fargo in response to an outpouring of support. Those interested can send donations to “Donations for Tanner Smith, Account #5817642019.”
It’s while making those arrangements to say goodbye to their little “Tan Man” that the family has tried to remember what made the boy so beloved.
“That boy- he was full of life. He loved monster trucks, loved basketball, he loved Buffalo Wild Wings. He loved everybody. His little sister, Tynlea, she never left his sight. She called him ‘bubba.’ She’s been looking for her bubba,” Greathouse said.
“He was just so full of life,” she repeated. “He always had the goofiest, craziest smile on his face. The house was never quiet. And last night, it was just so quiet.”