A family's pet ferrets chewed off part of a one-month-old child's face in a "horrific" mauling, police in Delaware County, Pennsylvania tell NBC10.
"This is the most horrific thing I've seen happen to a child 45 years in this town," Darby Police Chief Robert Smythe said Friday.
As many as three ferrets chewed on the baby girl's face as she was buckled into a car seat sitting on the floor at about 3:30 p.m. Thursday, inside a home in Darby, Pennsylvania, the police chief said.
U.S. & World
Stories that affect your life across the U.S. and around the world.
"The ferrets did chew the infant's nose, top lip and cheek area. They had eaten that area away," Smythe said.
The girl's mother had gone upstairs when the mauling took place. She heard the baby screaming and when she came back downstairs found a ferret on the child, according to Smythe. The mother threw the animal aside and called for help.
It's unclear how long it took the mother to respond to the child's cries.
"There's a one-month-old laying there and anywhere from one to three animals are eating it while the child is still alive and screaming. Now, how long does it take you to get downstairs to get to your kid," the police chief angrily asked. "You think that much flesh would be gone by the time you get down there?"
The parents, who Smythe said have developmental disabilities, told detectives the ferrets were in a fabric cage, but somehow got out. They were later destroyed and are being testing for rabies.
The girl was taken to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and underwent emergency surgery. Doctors placed two stents in her nose so she could breathe and she is currently listed in stable condition, Smythe said.
NBC10 did speak with the girl's father and he corroborated police's account of the event. He said his daughter will need multiple surgeries to recover from the attack.
Officers that responded to the call were so disturbed by the scene they were unable to sleep last night, the chief said.
The family was living in deplorable conditions and the home, in the 300 block of Poplar Road, is infested with fleas or mites, according to police. There were several other animals in the house including six cats, two dogs and two turtles.
The only food in the home was a jar of peanut butter, can of cranberry and some juice, Smythe said. There was food for the pets, however.
Neighbors said the parents were loving, caring and did not cause trouble.
"I hugged my baby," a neighbor named Danielle said of what she did after hearing about the attack. "It could have been anybody's baby. Everybody played over there."
The family's four other children, all aged 5-years-old or below, have been taken to a relative. They all have some type of special needs, according to Smythe. He would like them be placed in foster care.
Three social service agencies — Delaware County Children & Youth Services, Northwestern Human Services and Elwyn — have been monitoring the family, Smythe said. They are investigating the incident.
Smythe raised questions about how an incident like this could take place in a family that was being investigated.
"It's not that they're bad parents, it's just that the children are not being taken care of," he said.
Smythe has asked the Delaware County District Attorney to approve charges against the parents.