Baltimore police said they have charged two teenagers with dousing a young pit bull with gasoline and setting it on fire in West Baltimore last month, a case that sparked furor over animal cruelty and generated more than $26,000 in donations to find the culprits.
Police canceled a morning news conference Monday to discuss the arrests, which occurred over the weekend, saying detectives were consulting with prosecutors. No additional details were provided.
"The case is still very much open and under investigation, and we are working with prosecutors to go over evidence and bring this case forward," said Anthony Guglielmi, chief spokesman for the Police Department.
Because the suspects were charged as juveniles, their identities are not made public, though television news reports identified the suspects as 17-year-old twin brothers. Their parents appeared on camera outside the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center maintaining the boys' innocence, saying they were turned in for the reward money.
Word of an arrest was encouraging for animal welfare advocates, who said they received an outpouring of grief and anger from across the country as news spread about Phoenix, the nickname caregivers gave the female pit bull. A reward fund climbed past $26,000, well above the $2,000 typically offered by Metro Crime Stoppers for tips when people are killed.
Debra Rahl, programs director for Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, said one woman called from Venice Beach, Calif., saying she and her neighbors were horrified about what happened and wanted to help pay for the dog's medical expenses. The woman said they were holding a candlelight vigil for Phoenix on the beach there, Rahl said.
"We were all very excited to hear that there was an arrest made, and we're just hoping there's justice for Phoenix," Rahl said. "We're still very sad that she did not make it, but she didn't die in vain. It raised awareness of what happens with animals here in the city and across the country."
Police officer Syreeta Teel found the dog engulfed in flames May 27 in the 1600 block of Presbury St. in the Sandtown Winchester neighborhood. Teel, who owns a pit bull and received an honor from the city last week for her actions, threw her sweat shirt over the dog to extinguish the flames.
Phoenix suffered burns on 95 percent of her body and was taken to BARCS, where officials called it one of the most severe cases of animal cruelty they had ever seen.
She was eventually transported to the Metropolitan Veterinary Associates center outside Philadelphia to receive 24-hour care. Caregivers noted that Phoenix remained in good spirits despite her condition, wagging her tail as she was treated.
Extensive burns caused so much swelling around her face and rear quarters that, according to nurse Julie Hirsch, the dog was "barely recognizable," and she began to experience kidney failure. After determining the dog had little chance of a long-term recovery, hospital staff took Phoenix outside to be euthanized, hoping that a little flicker of sunshine would give her some happiness, Hirsch said.
On Monday, in the neighborhood were the dog was set on fire, fliers were plastered on boarded-up windows and lampposts along a street littered with trash and overgrown weeds.
"You or your neighbors may know who is responsible for torturing this poor dog," read one of the fliers.
"Call before someone else does. Do the right thing!" read another.
Rahl said the reward money will not be paid until a conviction is secured. Some of the money also went to the Franky Fund, which helps care for homeless pets.