Warning: This story contains graphic images.
An injured boy in Georgia has earned the support of thousands of people online following an attack by pit bulls that nearly cost him his life.
Justin Gilstrap, 11, of Appling, Georgia, was riding his bicycle on Friday, January 6, when he was attacked by three pit bulls.
The boy lost 70% of his scalp as a result of the mauling and suffered injuries across his body.
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As of Friday, Jan. 27, he will have undergone eight surgeries, his mom, Ericka Stevens, shared on Facebook — and he’s expected to be at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia for at least another month before moving to another hospital for additional rehabilitation.
A Facebook group called “Following the story of Justin Gilstrap” has grown to more than 22,500 supporters in the three weeks since the attack. Members of the group are from as far away as Australia.
While the group grew rapidly, not all members were primarily concerned with Gilstrap’s recovery, however.
Instead, some people wanted to defend the breed of the dogs that nearly took the boy’s life.
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To help control the content and keep it focused on the wounded boy, complete strangers stepped up to the plate to help the family and moderate the group.
One of those people was Megan Dozier of Tampa Bay, Florida.
There was “something about Justin’s sad sweet eyes while he stood there, probably in so much pain and shock …”
She first heard of Gilstrap’s attack on another Facebook page — and was touched by his story.
“I’ve seen gory videos of pit [bull] attacks and the aftermath all the time, but [there was] something about Justin’s sad sweet eyes while he stood there, probably in so much pain and shock,” she told Fox News Digital.
“His eyes [were] almost asking, ‘Why did this happen to me?’”
Dozier told Fox News Digital that she initially joined the group to keep up with Gilstrap’s recovery, but she became shocked by what she was seeing.
“When I saw people having fights and arguments about pit bulls on the actual page, I was very displeased, and felt like I needed to get involved somehow,” she said.
In the comments section, she said, “people were posting pictures of their pit bulls with their children or just sleeping” — insisting that their pit bulls would never hurt anyone.
The subsequent comments on those posts “turned into an all-out war on this child’s page, [when he’s] literally fighting for his life in the hospital,” Dozier told Fox News Digital.
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Dozier and two others then reached out to Gilstrap’s mom, Ericka Stevens, and offered assistance with managing the now-unwieldy group.
“The last thing we want is for Ericka to get on Justin’s support page and see anything but love and prayers for Justin,” she said.
Another issue, according to Dozier, is that scammers were impersonating Gilstrap’s mother with a fake CashApp account.
“She had to stop all CashApp donations because of this,” Dozier told Fox News Digital.
A GoFundMe for Gilstrap’s medical expenses has raised nearly $240,000 as of publication time. The boy’s mom is reportedly a single mother of four.
On the GoFundMe page, Gilstrap’s mother shared part of her son’s medical trauma: “He is missing 70% of his scalp, has several lacerations and staples, they couldn’t close the wound on his leg, and now he’s running a fever.”
Dozier of Florida said she has since video-chatted with the mom and son — and was amazed by the boy’s hospital room full of packages and notes from well-wishers, including from his beloved Georgia Bulldogs.
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Dayla Keeton of Kentucky is another person who volunteered her time to help the family.
While she doesn’t know the Gilstraps, she said that “as a mother, my heart broke and I began to follow Justin’s story, and joined the group to track updates.”
Keeton, too, was dismayed when the group turned from supporting the boy and into defending pit bulls.
“Justin is a living miracle from God,” Keeton told Fox News Digital.
“God has brought together [thousands of] people from all over the world to pray, love and support Justin, his mother and their family in that group,” she said.
Watching Gilstrap heal is “a blessing,” explained Keeton.
“But so is watching so many people come together with one common purpose, one common goal: to love and support one sweet, strong and amazing boy and his mother.”
Some people online have offered to make hats for the boy. Many others have offered prayers.
One commenter on the Facebook group wrote to the boy and his family, “I do pray that today is a better day for you, and that each day that passes you are feeling better. Know that I and others from southeast Mississippi are praying for your full recovery, and we check in on you daily. God bless you and keep you strong,” said a woman named Brenda.
The three dogs that attacked Gilstrap, along with four other pit bull puppies owned by the same individual, were euthanized by the county, according to FOX54 of Augusta, Georgia.
The dogs’ owner reportedly told officers he was not at home at the time of the attack — and that his dogs liked to chase bicyclists.
The owner was charged with reckless conduct and was released on bond, local outlets reported.
The euthanization of the dogs was carried out with consent from the Columbia County Sheriff and District Attorney, according to Fox 54 of Augusta.
Source: Fox News