He rushed out of the car to find the shots had come from police officers, aimed at two pit bulls that had viciously attacked his 6-year-old granddaughter, Zainabou Drame.
"The pit bulls had my grandbaby by the face and they were dragging her up the street," McElrath recalled Thursday. "My dog (Cappuccino) and her momma beat those dogs off my baby. That is how she is still alive."
Zainabou was playing with a group of children in the neighborhood when she ran off, police said. That was when the dogs, who live with their owner in the neighborhood, attacked her.
After learning of the attack from a neighbor, the girl's mother, Tanina Drame, ran outside with a baseball bat and began beating the dogs in the head in an attempt to get them off of Zainabou.
McElrath's dog, Cappuccino, who weighs less than 20 pounds, also tried to attack one of the pit bulls.
When police arrived, officers said the pit bulls turned toward them. They shot the animals to prevent them from lunging at the officers; the dogs retreated into the front lawn and died, and police were finally able to help Zainabou.
A 6-year-old is seriously injured after she was attacked by two pit bulls. Her mother is credited with saving her life after she beat the dogs with a bat to keep them away.
She was transported to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical center, where she was immediately taken into surgery.
"They had to basically put her face back on," McElrath said.
Gina Tyus, Zainabou's aunt, spent the night at the hospital and described her niece's injuries as "gruesome."
"Both the dogs, one on each side, latched onto her face and ripped her jaw almost completely off. It was broken to the point where you could actually pull it away from her face," Tyus said.
Doctors also had to remove Zainabou's tongue, which Tyus said was barely attached when the girl arrived at the hospital. One of her eyes was sewn shut because the muscle below it was no longer working.
"It is painful to go in (the hospital) to see your 6-year-old niece basically fighting for her life," Tyus said. "She is lying there - her face is swollen almost beyond recognition - I thank God she is still here. We are praying. Just trying to keep hope alive and asking everyone to pray with us."
The family hopes this can teach dog owners to be more aware of their pets.
"Anything that has teeth can bite," Tyus said. "You don't know what can set them off, upset them, trigger something. The kids were just out here playing. As far as we know, it was just the fact that they were running around that set the dogs off."
Zainabou was in an induced coma Thursday evening, said Lt. Lisa Davis, acting public information officer for the Cincinnati Police Department.
Hospital officials plan to keep her in a coma for a couple days, Davis said.
Authorities were "cautiously optimistic" she would survive, said Lt. Tim Brown.
Contributing: Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Keith BieryGolick