ROCK HILL — After learning that a pit bull mauled and tore off a part of his best friend’s scalp, Jacob Ray made a decision both his parents called “drastic” – he had three inches of his long blond hair shaved off.
In honor of 11-year-old Kenny Allen, Jacob, 8, and his brothers, Seth, 10, and Daniel, 5, asked their parents to shave their heads to show support for the friend they all call “little Kenny.”
Last Wednesday, little Kenny was mauled by a 2-year-old pit bull named Dallas. The dog latched its teeth onto the back of Kenny’s head, tearing off a part of his scalp that doctors were unable to reattach.
Now, Kenny will face years of intensive reconstructive skin grafting. His head had to be shaved for a six-hour surgery. A vacuum attaches to the top of his head to suction excess blood and skin while he lies in a hospital bed in “good spirits,” his father said Sunday.
On the night of the accident, Pastor Craig Ray of Faith Family Christian Center was preparing to start the service. That’s when his wife, Angela Ray, received a text message about Kenny’s accident.
“We didn’t know the severity” of the attack, Ray said.
Instantly, church members began praying for Kenny. After the service, they rushed to the hospital, where they saw just how much damage was done.
“All I could imagine was my own child,” Ray said. “As a dad, the heartbreak of what Kenneth (Allen) was going through” was .
Without delay, members of the church turned a festival meant to raise funds for a mission trip to Ecuador into a fundraiser for Kenny. People showed up at the church on Homestead Road in droves, Ray said, some of them “pouring” money into donation buckets.
“It’s humbling to see the love of the community support little Kenny,” Ray said before church started Sunday. “I’m excited that the community still shows love.”
On Saturday, the church held a festival to raise money for Kenny. If $1,000 was raised, Pastor Ray agreed to have his head shaved.
By Sunday morning, the church had raised more than $2,100.
But the decision that inspired the challenge began with Ray’s sons and several other children in the congregation when, on Thursday, they asked to shave their heads.
Making the decision wasn’t difficult at all for Seth Ray, who said he had a bald head and knows the teasing Kenny’s bound to face from peers.
“Kenny’s my best friend, and I knew kids could be rude,” he said.
As church began on Sunday, Ray cautioned members that the service would be a tad different.
“We’re going to have a party…a celebration,” he shouted into a microphone. “Little Kenny has a plan and purpose. God has his hands right in the middle of this mess.”
Congregants flocked to the front of the sanctuary clapping, lifting their hands and singing, “I am a friend of God.” Onstage, a projection screen flashed an image of Kenny in his hospital bed.
In the audience praising God and wiping away tears were Kenny’s parents, Kenneth and Becki Allen.
“I have to be strong,” Becki Allen said while standing on a stage and witnessing church members get their hair chopped. “It’s amazing. This is our family.”
From the hospital to fundraisers, “they’ve been with us through everything,” Kenneth Allen said of his church family.
Kenneth and Becki don’t harbor ill feelings towards the pit bull’s owners, Anthony J. Smith and Angela Oneppo. On Saturday, Smith and Oneppo visited Kenny at the hospital, where Smith gave the boy his Xbox 360 and five games.
“It’s not his (Smith’s) fault,” Kenneth Allen said.
At the church, Pastor Ray encouraged people to pray for Smith and Oneppo, not condemn them.
“They’re still people, and they need love too,” he said. “We should step aside before we look at the other party and cast stones. Just like people have bad days, animals have bad days.”
During “the main event,” both men and women lined the sanctuary’s stage to get their heads shaved.
Kenneth Allen was the first to get a haircut. A little later, Becki Allen jumped in line and got a new hairdo she admitted put her in “shock.”
Support for Kenny became contagious. Members donated money while many others volunteered to have their heads shaved.
Bart Borchardt and his son, Tucker, came from Concord to Rock Hill to support Kenny.
While Tucker shaved his father’s head, Borchardt said a dog mauled his son three years ago to the day of Kenny’s attack.
Dennis Norman, 49, also knows the pain of a canine’s bite. That’s why, he said, he took his hair “down to the skin.”
A dog gnawed Norman’s legs when he was 7. He still has scars from the attack.
“I didn’t want kids picking on him (Kenny),” Norman said.
William McLaughlin, 24, of Lake Wylie, admitted that he didn’t expect to shave his head when he attended church Sunday morning.
But he doesn’t have any regrets.
“He (Kenny) can’t grow his hair,” McLaughlin said. “When he comes back, he’ll fit in.”
Even Jeff Robinson, whose long brown hair won him the part of Jesus Christ in every church play, went bald for Kenny.
Angela Ray, who said she hadn’t cut her hair in eight years, sat in the barber’s chair.
“This is for you, Kenny,” she said as Becki Allen took scissors to her locks. “If this were my child, I hope people would respond this way.”
The church will have T-shirts made depicting members of the “Bald Club.”
Kenny begins his first round of skin-grafting procedures at 3 p.m. Monday, Becki Allen said. It’ll be six months before they know whether the grafting is successful.