Police spokeswoman Sgt. Lyn Tomioka said that multiple eyewitnesses -- who do not know Byrnes and therefore had no reason to make false statements -- watched a shirtless Byrnes pull up to the church in a yellow pickup truck and begin hacking his dog with a hatchet outside the building. He then carried the mortally wounded dog into the chapel.
Police on the scene followed a trail of blood into the church and discovered the hatchet as well as Byrnes' blood-soaked pants and shoes. The bloody trail led them to a courtyard where they discovered Byrnes, nude and slathered with blood, hunched over Nickel. Officers described the dog's brains oozing out of a gash in its head; Inspector Ricardo Galande said the dog was "chopped to pieces." At this point, the arresting officers claim Byrnes told them, "I had to kill my dog, he had the devil in him," and later added, "The devil was in my dog. I had to get the devil out."
Agonizingly, Nickel the dog did not die immediately but survived until Monday morning before being euthanized.
Velardo said that Byrnes is bipolar, and has has been subjected to several "5150" involuntary psychiatric holds in the past. He added that Byrnes' condition seemed to be worsening of late; after a dozen years of cohabiting, Velardo and Byrnes recently parted company when Byrnes stopped paying rent.
A friend of Byrnes' of more than 20 years who asked his name not be used in this article said he's not sure what story to believe -- but blames Byrnes' behavior, either way, on mental illness.
"The Joe I know would never, ever injure anyone -- in his right mind," the friend said. "Whatever happened, you can definitely chalk it up to mental illness. He's been having problems for a while now with mental health issues."
Byrnes has two more dogs. It is not certain who, if anyone, is looking after them.
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