A New Mexico woman died after being attacked by four pit bulls while taking a walk in her neighbourhood at Easter in a mauling that ended only after a police officer began spraying the animals with bullets, authorities said.

A police officer found four pit bulls mauling Margaret Salcedo when he arrived in response to an emergency call from a neighbour who heard her screams for help, said Patrick Gallagher, the police chief in the town of Truth or Consequences.

A young man driving by told police he tried to get out of his vehicle but the dogs threatened him and he stayed put, Gallagher said.

Officer James Harrington couldn’t drive the animals off and had to fire several shots at one of the dogs when it threatened him, the chief said. That animal fled, wounded, and the officer was able to scatter the remaining dogs.

Harrington and emergency technicians gave first aid to the 48-year-old Salcedo, but she died at a local hospital several hours after the attack in the central New Mexico community of about 7500 people, Gallagher said.

“The wounds were very severe, bite wounds and tearing wounds to her extremities, so there was a lot of blood loss,” Gallagher said.

The chief said he did not know Salcedo, but officers were told she does not own a car and walks where she needs to go. She has two grown children, he said.

Once Salcedo was on her way to the hospital, Harrington tracked the blood from the wounded dog and found the animals at their owners’ home, Gallagher said. The dog that was shot was dead under the house, he said.

He said he expects the remaining dogs will be euthanised once the investigation ends.

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