POCATELLO — Heading home from Leo’s Place on Jan. 21, Kellan could barely contain the excitement. He couldn’t wait to show his stepbrothers the ninja set he’d just won at the arcade. To him, the new toy represented more than just one of his favorite things – ninjitsu. It showed that he could finally play video games “with the big dogs,” as he put it.
The eight-year-old never got to share his new toy with his cousins. Instead, the ninja set represented the first sign something was wrong when Kellan’s mom, Emily Islas, found it lying on the ground.
When Islas and her two children arrived at their Fort Hall home, like so many times before, they had to contend with their extended family’s dogs. Dogs Kellan had been playing fetch with that morning, as he had done so many other mornings. They were there to greet Kellan, his sister and their mom with licks and tail wags.
Less than 30 minutes later, those same dogs would claim Kellan’s life and leave Islas in the hospital fighting for hers.
Islas found Kellan lying on the porch of the main house in front of the RV where she and her children lived.
“While I was holding Kellan, I felt him take his last breath,” she said. “But I kept thinking, ‘No, no, no, no, stay with me, baby. Stay with me, baby. Stay with me, baby. Fight.”
Islas spoke with EastIdahoNews.com in her hospital room where, for two hours, she shared memories of her son, the man he was becoming, and the horrific 30 minutes that changed their family forever.
Who Kellan was
Kellan Ryan Boner was born on Feb. 5, 2015. From a young age, he knew what he wanted to do, and he knew how to achieve those aspirations.
His mother explained that he learned how to ride dirt bikes and a skateboard by watching YouTube videos. When construction crews fixed the water main around their home, he convinced them to build dirt ramps so he could ride the way he wanted.
“This little boy walked with giants and very much was one himself,” his stepfather, Kyle Graves, said of Kellan. “He carried a smile that could change the mood in a room.”
When Graves introduced Kellan to dirt track racing, he watched in awe as an energetic kid took in 30 laps intently. Graves said that after breaking down what the riders were doing, Kellan declared he wanted to be a racer.
Before dreaming of spitting dirt off his tires, Kellan focused on being the best brother, friend and person he could be.
Reminiscing about the boy who had his heart since their first meeting, Graves said Kellan’s moral compass was impeccable.
Kellan once defended a classmate from what he believed to be ridicule from a teacher by walking the girl out of a classroom and reading with her on a hallway bench. Another time he dismissed a friendship because his friend was being a bully.
He went home from school that day saddened by the decision, his mother recalled, but knew it was the right one.
“He had a great sense of right and wrong, and he would dig his heels in,” Islas said.
The impact Kellan left on his own community of second-graders was evident in a letter Islas received addressed to her son from a classmate.
“Dear Kellan, I hope you’re OK,” the letter reads. “I was always there for you when we were at school. My heart is broken now that you’re not here, but I know you’re in a better place, and you’re not hurting. Please know, you’re my best friend always and forever. I will be there for the funeral. This is not goodbye, this is until I see you again.”
Kellan loved his five-year-old baby sister, Aurora — or Rory, as the family calls her.
He was excited to become a big brother, Islas said with a smile as she recalled him dressing his two-year-old self on the morning Rory was born and arriving at the hospital with two different colored shoes.
Kellan wanted to be a bow hunter, evidenced by a video message Graves received on that fateful Saturday.
“I love you, Kyle,” Kellan said gleefully in the message. “One day, I hope you can teach me how to use a bow and arrow.”
Little did Graves know, it was the last message he would ever receive from his stepson.
That fateful day
“It was a normal Saturday for us,” Islas recalled.
She and the kids had a lazy morning. She made breakfast and did a load of laundry but the kids wanted to go out. The family decided on pizza and games at Leo’s Place.
Upon returning home, the trio was greeted by the dogs — two Rottweilers and mixed-breeds. They licked Rory awake from a nap and tried to climb into the car as if it was their turn to go out. Like so many times prior, Islas was worried that out of excitement, the dogs would knock one of her kids over with their ferocious tail wags.
That was the only concern she had pertaining to the dogs they’d known for so long.
“There was no aggression,” she said. “Nothing that gave me even an inkling that in less than five minutes, my boy was gonna be gone.”
She walked her kids to the RV, where they lived about 75 feet from the main house where her aunt lives. Rory was at her side, and Kellan followed a step or two behind, clutching his new ninja set to his chest.
Islas and her daughter went inside the RV, and Kellan stayed outside.
She said she has replayed what happened over the next few minutes over and over again in her head since it all unfolded. While speaking with EastIdahoNews.com, she repeated the same sequence several times, fighting back tears with each repetition.
Islas helped Rory remove her snow boots, then gave her the TV remote. She grabbed the keys in case she needed to unlock the main house, then she went back outside.
She didn’t see Kellan and called out for him. When he didn’t answer, she figured he’d already gone to the main house, so she headed that way.
As she approached the porch, Islas saw the ninja set lying on the ground. She thought it was weird for the new toy to have been dropped, but moved up the porch toward the door.
“Then I walked up onto the porch, and I looked down, Kellan was lying face down,” Islas recalled.
Ever a mischievous prankster, she thought her son was messing with her — especially since the dogs were sitting in a half-circle around the boy with their tails wagging.
“I said, ‘Baby, that’s not funny.’ Then I looked again, and I saw blood,” Islas said, beginning to cry.
She quickly realized the dogs must have somehow been involved in whatever happened to Kellan. Having grown up around dogs and other animals, Islas instinctively knew that attempting to remove their “prey” could cause the dogs to attack her and Kellan.
So she decided instead to cover him.
The attack continues
Islas used her left hand to brace herself as she lowered her body toward her son. By the time her left hand hit the porch, the dogs began attacking her. The first bite was to her right upper arm.
With the initial bite, the dog tore into her flesh and through her muscle.
“I felt my artery pop — I heard it pop,” she said.
“I knelt down over the top of Kellan and buried face into his. I covered his head and neck with my face, my shoulders and my chest … and I just kept kissing him and telling him, ‘Baby, I love you, I’m here.’ I just held him, and I let them go to town on me. I didn’t care.”
She was willing to let the dogs tear her apart before she let them get back to her precious son.
She said the dogs did not make any sounds at any point during the experience. There were no growls — only the sounds of the dogs’ claws scraping against the porch.
But then she heard “Mommy, mommy, mommy” from Rory, who had come to see what was happening.
Suddenly, Islas had to rethink her situation.
She screamed for her daughter to run back to the RV, go inside, and shut the door.
The frantic mother remained calm and adjusted the slightest bit to allow the dogs new targets on her body in order to distract them from her baby girl as she navigated the 25 yards or so back to the RV.
Once Islas heard the sound of the RV door slamming shut and knew Rory was safe, she turned her full attention back to protecting her son.
“She did what she had to do without thought,” said Graves, who was in California at the time of the attack. “She knew she was going to get hurt. She knew she could lose her life. She was OK with that.”
Eventually, the dogs grew bored and stopped their attack.
Islas used what little strength she had to sit up and pull Kellan to her chest.
Fighting extreme pain, she attempted to open her blood-soaked phone without the use of her right arm, which hung limp at her side. One of the dogs made one more attempt to reclaim Kellan and bit Islas on the back of the head.
Islas mustered all her strength to reach for a frozen water bucket and swing it as hard as she could, nailing the dog in the head. As the dog ran away, Islas went back to holding her son and recalls him taking his final breath.
Finally, she was able to get her phone to redial the last number she had called. It was a friend and she explained she and Kellan had been attacked.
Her friends rushed to the house and pulled Kellan from Islas’ lap. She fell to the porch and immediately called Graves. She explained what happened but then the call dropped.
While one friend performed CPR on her son, Islas asked the other to FaceTime Graves so she could say goodbye.
“I thought I was dreaming,” he said. “I saw her bleeding, I saw her fading. I thought for a second there that I was saying goodbye to my son and that I was going to lose the love of my life. But she fought, she fought for every inch.”
Seeing his beloved, covered in blood, barely able to maintain consciousness, Graves said he had never before felt so helpless.
When Islas again collapsed, the call was once again disconnected, leaving Graves to his terrifying imagination. All the while, Islas lay in the snow, listening to her friends attempt to revive her son as blood pooled in the snow around her.
Injuries and recovery
Islas knew she was in grave shape by the looks she received from the EMTs when the ambulance arrived. She was unsure she would survive the trip to the hospital.
When the Fort Hall police officers saw the injuries suffered by both Islas and Kellan, they immediately killed all four dogs. The owners were later cited for 15 misdemeanors — including vicious animals attack, rabies vaccinations violations and being over the limit of canine or feline pets.
Islas was transported to Portneuf Medical Center and prepped for life-saving surgeries.
“My right arm had zero function. I had no pulse, I had no blood flow. It was, more or less, barely attached,” she said. “They warned me before taking me into surgery that they might have to amputate my arm.”
It wasn’t until after the surgeries when nurses were cleaning Islas that they found a large wound on the back of her head from a dog bite.
Along with the head wound, Islas suffered significant injuries to her back and sides. But the major damage was done to her arms – particularly her right arm.
The attack severed and removed a chunk of her brachial artery, which carries blood from the heart to the fingers and back. It took two attempts, but doctors were able to replace a chunk of the artery with portions of veins.
Her body has learned how to use the minimal track to carry blood to her hand, but the return trip, thus far, has not been quite as successful. And even with the positives — Islas is able to move her fingers — the extent of the use, feeling and functionality of her right arm and hand are “a waiting game.”
“I have a long road ahead of me. I have a lot of occupational therapy, and even with that, we don’t know,” she said.
What made her recovery from surgery even more difficult was learning her son had been declared dead moments before she was knocked out.
“I was still screaming for him when I felt the drugs hit my vein,” she said. “Physically, the wounds will heal. Mentally, my son took his last breath in my arms. Right now, I’m terrified to let my daughter out of my sight.”
But, both Graves and Islas say they have felt Kellan’s presence since.
Graves said after he landed in Boise and was heading to a rental car for the drive to Pocatello, he felt what he could only describe as a little hand grab his. He learned Kellan had been pronounced dead later while driving.
Islas felt the familiar feeling of a small body nestling into her as she lay in her recovery bed. The energy she felt slid in between her arms and head as if it was attempting to snuggle. That, she added, was something Kellan had done since he was a small child.
Islas is due to be discharged from the hospital Thursday.
A celebration of life for Kellan is scheduled for Friday, at Cornelison Funeral Home in Pocatello. Visitation will be from 1 p.m. until 1:30 p.m., with the ceremony to follow.
Graves plans on making Kellan’s name last through something that quickly became a passion of his. He intends to launch a racing team.
“One thing I’ve promised myself is, I will build a team,” he said. “I will wrap the cars as his favorite things — Power Rangers, Ninja and Thor — and do a rent-a-ride thing. I’ll pay for everything … you want to race, come race with me, and take home everything you win. Kellan would’ve loved that.”
The family also wants Kellan’s loss to serve all others.
“I never want another mother to lay here in a hospital bed like this,” Islas said. “I never want a father to get that call. … I want to create some sort of legacy.”
She and Graves plan to push for legislation that will create a system of checks and balances for aggressive dogs. She is adamant that the rules do not apply only to certain breeds, but to any dog.
The family saw the ordinance issued by the Fort Hall Business Council, informing pet owners that “at large dogs” would be killed. As a dog lover, they said, Kellan would have hated that law.
Instead, they will propose a three-strike policy.
The first act of aggression from a dog will result in an in-home quarantine where the dog is not allowed out of the owner’s property. The second act of aggression will constitute an off-site quarantine and citation. The dog will be taken by animal services for 10 days, and the owner will be given a ticket and a misdemeanor charge.
If the dog or dogs continue to be aggressive, they believe the dog should be put down and the owners should be issued a felony citation.
The reason this would have made a difference for Kellan is at least one of the dogs was reportedly involved in situations where it cornered children in Fort Hall and the family later heard it killed a neighbor’s calf.
Because they can find no other reason, the family believes one of the dogs attacked Kellan and the others joined in.
“Had there been something like this law in Idaho that was actually followed up on, I might not be sitting here, and my son might still be alive,” Islas said. “That’s where I want to be a change.”
Support and healing
A GoFundMe launched by Samantha Lenay, a close friend of the family whom they have praised for her steadfast support throughout this ordeal, has raised over $35,000 since the attack. Islas says they will never be able to fully express their gratitude to all the donors.
“You guys have humbled me,” she said, beginning to cry. “I never thought, in a million years, that my son and I mattered enough to anyone other than my family.”
Islas expects to be discharged from PMC Thursday. With all the recovery on her horizon, her immediate focus will be on continuing to be a mother to Rory.
Through tears and pain, Islas reflected on the man her son would one day become and knows his life was not in vain.
“He wanted to swim with sharks,” she said. “He wanted to climb mountains. He wanted to skydive. He wanted to travel this world and meet everybody in this world.”
Saturday, hours before he died, Kellan asked his mother what she would do with a million dollars. When Islas responded that she didn’t know what she would do, he responded, “I would feed the homeless.”
That was just who he was.
Our attorneys tell us we need to put this disclaimer in stories involving fundraisers: EastIdahoNews.com does not assure that the money deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries.