"I wanted to protect my little brother," said Rayshun McDowell, who battled the animal in the front yard of his home Sunday in Kingstown, a town about 50 miles west of Charlotte.
The fox bit Rayshun in the leg, but the 61-pound-boy held the animal down. Health officials later identified the fox as rabid.
"I looked out the window and Rayshun had the fox by the neck and was pushing it into the ground," said his mother, Shinda Linder. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing."
Rayshun's stepfather, Ryan Thompson, pulled the boy off the animal and kicked it. A neighbor fired a handgun three times but the fox continued to advance.
Thompson, wearing a cast because of a broken leg, said he used a stick and his crutch to beat the fox to death.
Rayshun, meanwhile, asked only for a Band-Aid and didn't complain of any pain.
"Rayshun was really calm and wasn't upset," his mother said. "I couldn't believe he would do something like that. He was so brave, and I was a wreck."
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Rabies, which attacks the nervous system, is fatal unless treated before symptoms appear. It is transmitted through saliva and often makes animals aggressive.
Rayshun is undergoing treatment for rabies, as is a 6-year-old girl who was attacked by a fox earlier the same day at her home nearby.
Cleveland County now has 15 confirmed cases of rabies -- twice as many as were reported by the same time last year. Sam Lockridge, a county health official, said the region's rapid growth is likely pushing animals into neighborhoods as their habitat disappears.
Officials urged people to keep both themselves and their pets away from wild animals.
"I definitely wouldn't advise anyone else to react the way the young boy did, because of the dangers," Lockridge said. "But that shows a lot of heart, and it's a good thing he reacted that way and helped those other children."
Information from: The Charlotte Observer, http://www.charlotte.com