Christine Rollins steered her white sedan toward the rural Texas home and parked it just a few steps away from the front door. She stepped out of the car, locked it and prepared to head into the house, where she worked as a caretaker for an older couple.
Instead, according to the authorities who are now investigating her death, she was attacked by a herd of FERAL HOGS before she could make the short walk.
Hog attacks are rare, but the scene was so harrowing that investigators could find no other explanation for Ms. Rollins’s death early Sunday morning in Anahuac, about 50 miles east of Houston. It was just the fifth deadly feral hog attack documented in the United States in nearly two centuries, according to one study.
“It was like nothing we’d ever seen,” Sheriff Brian C. Hawthorne of Chambers County said in an interview on Tuesday, the day after a medical examiner ruled the cause of death as “exsanguination due to feral hog assault,” using a medical term for severe blood loss.
One of the homeowners went to check on why Ms. Rollins, 59, had not come inside at her usual time and discovered her body on a small patch of grass.
Ms. Rollins was one of three caregivers who worked 12-to-14-hour shifts looking after the husband, 84, and wife, 79, who suffer from memory loss. She was known for her compassion, the sheriff said, relaying a story of when Ms. Rollins drove over from another town to feed the couple when the wife got sick.
Sheriff Hawthorne said it was clear from her injuries that Ms. Rollins had fought back against the hogs. He said it was impossible to know exactly how many had attacked her, but that there had been more than one, based on the varying sizes of her bite wounds.
There are millions of wild hogs in Texas, though they are rarely violent toward humans. Texans mostly encounter them when the animals have uprooted a flower bed or damaged crops. Unlike domesticated pigs, feral hogs can become aggressive if they feel trapped, or if a female hog is defending her offspring. Most weigh about 200 pounds, though they can grow to more than 500.
“Feral pigs will lunge at you and attack you” if they perceive a threat, said John J. McGlone, a professor of animal behavior at Texas Tech University who has studied feral and domestic hogs.
There were about 100 documented attacks by feral hogs on humans in the United States between 1825 and 2012, four of which were fatal, according to a 2013 study. The most recent of those was also in Texas, in 1996.
Three of the four fatal attacks were by pigs wounded by hunters. But feral hog attacks in urban and suburban areas have increased since the mid-1990s, said John J. Mayer, the study’s author. He warned that many attacks likely go unreported, especially in rural regions.
Sheriff Hawthorne said the tragedy was one of the worst he had seen in his 35-year career. He said that as developers build houses in rural areas, more wild hogs are coming into contact with people. But the only other hog attack he had worked on was when one had attacked a pet cat.
“Feral hogs are just that: They’re feral, they’re wild and they roam,” he said. “One minute they’re tearing up the land on one ranch, the next minute they’re tearing up the ranch in the town over.”
Feral hogs descended from European wild boars, which were first brought to Texas in the 1500s and sometimes bred with domesticated pigs, Professor McGlone said. They mostly eat vegetation but are omnivorous, and can briefly run at speeds up to 30 m.p.h.