A woman caring for an elderly couple was found dead outside their home in rural Texas early Sunday after she was attacked by wild hogs, according to officials.
The fatal attack is one of the few deaths to occur as an explosion in the population of feral hogs, an invasive species, causes widely reported destruction around the United States, and particularly in Texas.
The caregiver, 59-year-old Christine Marie Rollings, was scheduled to visit her clients in Anahuac at her regular time of 6 a.m., but when she never arrived, one of the homeowners went outside and discovered Rollings's body between her car and the front door, the Chambers County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.
Officials were initially unsure of what killed Rollings, though investigators early on suspected an animal attack, Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said in a news conference Monday. Medical Examiner Selly Rivers, in neighboring Jefferson County, later ruled the cause of death as "exsanguination due to feral hog assault," or that Rollings bled to death as a result of the attack.
"In my 35 years, I will tell you it's one of the worst things I've ever seen," Hawthorne told reporters.
The home of the couple Rollings cared for sits on roughly 12 acres of land in Anahuac, a town 50 miles east of Houston, Hawthorne said. He told reporters investigators believe Rollings arrived around 6 a.m., when it was still dark - and when feral hogs are typically out.
Hawthorne told reporters there were details of the case he did not want to discuss out of respect for the families involved, but he did note that Rollings had been caring for her clients — an 84-year-old and his 79-year-old wife — for about a year and a half.
Rollings's family described her as having dedicated her life to helping people, according to ABC 13 in Houston, adding the hard worker was also a "huge fan of the San Francisco 49ers and the Houston Rockets." Rollings, who would have turned 60 at Christmas, is survived by an adult daughter and two adult grandchildren.
Hawthorne described Rollings's death as "tragic," but he noted feral hogs don't usually pose a threat to humans.
"This is a very rare incident. What little research we've found, less than six have been reported in the nation," he said. "I don't know how many we have in Texas, but I hope we never have another in Chambers County."
The sheriff's department maintains traps to assist farmers and ranchers whose lands are destroyed by the animals. Mature hogs can weigh up to 400 pounds and have flourished due to a mix of hardiness, lack of natural predators, disease resistance and high reproduction rates.
The population is estimated at more than 1.5 million in Texas, mostly concentrated in the south, eastern and central parts of the state, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.