Speculation about whether a trio of ferrets were responsible for the mauling of a 1-month-old girl in a Delaware County, Pennsylvania, home last week have been running rampant since the attack — but police are shooting down the rumors, saying clear evidence points to the ferrets.
Skyy Fraim was released from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia this week after undergoing emergency surgery following the Jan. 21 attack, police said on Friday. The girl’s nose and part of her cheek were eaten away, while her upper lip was shredded.
The baby’s mother, Jessica Benales, was upstairs using the restroom when the mauling happened. She came down to find at least one of the ferrets attacking the child and pulled the animal off the girl, who was strapped into a car seat on the floor of the family’s Darby home.
Benales, 24, and her 42-year-old fiancé, Burnie Fraim, told police they believed the ferrets somehow broke out of their mesh pen.
But despite the accounts by police and the child's parents of the mauling, some ferret owners and shelter operators told NBC10 the animals could not have inflicted such severe injuries on the child.
Others claimed a necropsy found no human tissue in the animal’s stomach — but necropsies were not performed on the ferrets, Delaware County Animal Control said, so that cannot be known. After the animals were euthanized, a rabies test was performed and came back negative.
A staffer said necropsies are hardly ever performed by the agency and were not in this case because the mother witnessed part of the attack.
Still, the necropsies are unnecessary, says Darby Police Chief Robert Smythe. There is clear evidence that the ferrets were responsible for the mauling, he told NBC10.
“I would refute what they are saying because of physical evidence that was inside the building and that was on the child’s face,” he said.
Skyy Fraim had puncture wounds on her head consistent with a ferret’s teeth and claws, Smythe said. Detectives looked at the family’s other pets and the possibility that a rodent was responsible, but those possibilities were ruled out. It also appeared the ferrets roamed the home, which authorities said was filthy, and broke into pet food.
Benales and Fraim, who have four other children age 5 or younger, have each been charged with five counts of child endangerment. The children have been removed from their parents' care and are currently with the Delaware County Children and Youth Services.
Authorities said the children and parents all have special needs and have been under the care of three social service agencies.
In addition to the ferrets, the family had six cats and two turtles. Two dogs had previously been removed from the home.
Seven case workers were assigned to the family, Smythe said. He questioned how nothing had been done to improve the family’s quality of life and remove the animals.
“It’s a family in crisis,” he said. “I believe they’re people that have issues and problems and the system is not working.”
Prior to being charged, Fraim told NBC10 that he and his fiancé care for the children.
“We’re good parents. It’s just we made one mistake by leaving them alone. We regret it, and we blame ourselves for it,” he said. The 1-month-old will need to undergo several surgeries to repair the damage done in the attack, the father added.
Smythe said a district court judge disregarded a bail recommendation that included a psychological evaluation and instead released the couple on their own recognizance. They are barred from having contact with the children.
A court date has yet to be set in the case.