THORNWOOD, NY — A little girl is being monitored for rabies and her family is still stunned after a coyote appeared out of nowhere at a playground on Sunday, then sank its teeth deep into the girl's arm and wouldn't let go.
The story of her escape and recovery involves a good samaritan whose name literally means "archangel liberator." It also involves quick, strong action by Kasey King-Petrallese, the girl's mother.
"My instinct [was] 'today is not the day. I'm not going to lose any children. This is not how it's ending,'" King-Petrallese said.
She was in the park around 4 p.m. on Sunday when the coyote showed up. She picked up her 3-year-old son and ran with him and her 5-year-old daughter from the animal in the playground at Carroll Park.
"I took my foot and kicked him right in the face with all of my might, and he fell down to the ground," King-Petrallese said.
A split second later, though, she said, the coyote jumped back up, and lunged at her daughter.
"He grabbed her left arm and dragged her down," the mother said. "And at that point, we all tumbled down. He was on her arm, and I grabbed his snout trying to break that bite, break that lock."
The little girl, Natalia Petrallese, very bravely and clearly recounted what had happened to her.
"That thing had sharp teeth. It bit very hard right here, and I got four marks," she said, pointing to her left elbow.
She also showed PIX11 News the pink sweatshirt she'd been wearing when she'd been attacked. At least three puncture marks were quite visible through the fabric, from the animal's teeth.
Once the coyote attacked, and King-Petrallese tried to fight it off with all her might, it took further effort to get the animal off of her daughter's arm.
"That's when the gentleman started jumping on the back of the coyote, and held his neck," King-Petrallese said.
The man who jumped in is Arcangelo Liberatore, a police officer in Irvington, New York, who was off duty, with his wife and children.
"I don't really remember," Ofc. Liberatore told PIX11 News in an interview, "but I got the thing on the ground and I just got on top of it."
Liberatore, who actually used to work with King-Petrallese's husband as an EMT, managed to seize the animal, and told the girl and her mom to run.
"He is a true hero," said King-Petrallese. "I do feel that most people wouldn't have come back to help someone."
For his part, Liberatore said that while he appreciated the way his actions were described, he also views it as something of a four-letter word.
"I don't like the h-word," he said, but he humbly acknowledged that he did display heroism. "It's just ingrained in me now to run toward trouble, I guess," said the man who's also an Air Force reservist and Brazilian jiu-jitsu aficionado.
He wasn't the only one who'd shown bravery, however.
"He sewed into a knot and I was okay," said Natalia, about the doctor she was rushed to see immediately after the incident.
The pre-K student got stitches and rabies shots, and discussed it matter-of-factly.
Both families, whose children go to the same school, said that while they're quite nervous, they'll probably still return to Carroll Park, where the incident happened.
"I think it's like a one in a million kind of thing," Liberatore said. "I didn't have my firearm [when it happened]. I'll probably bring it around more now."
He said that he was able to hold the animal down for about five minutes until Mt. Pleasant police arrived. When they did, they arranged for Liberatore to jump out of the way while they shot and killed the coyote.
It is highly unusual for coyotes, which are mostly nocturnal animals, to approach humans at any time, especially during the middle of the day, in an open area, according to zoologists.
The animal will be necropsied in order to see if it was rabid, or had some other medical condition that caused it to behave so unusually. Meanwhile, the 5-year-old girl is on antibiotics, and has to have a rabies shot once a week or so for the next month.
"I'm going to tell my teacher and my whole class that I got bitten by a coyote," she told PIX11 News.
Chances are they know already, but that did not phase her.
"My daddy didn't call all of them," she said.