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Bear may have stalked family
By ROBERT WILSON, firstname.lastname@example.org
April 14, 2006
BENTON, Tenn. — A black bear that attacked a family, killing a 6-year-old girl and critically injuring her 2-year-old brother and mother, may have been stalking them, authorities said Friday.
The bear attacked the family about 4:30 p.m. Thursday as they left a pool below a waterfall on Benton Springs Road in the Chilhowee Mountains in southeastern Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
The 640,000-acre park runs along the Tennessee-North Carolina line southwest of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the attack site is about 70 miles southwest of Knoxville.
A witness told authorities the children had run ahead of their mother on a trail leading from the wading pool when they saw the bear, TWRA spokesman Dan Hicks said.
They turned around and ran back to her while the bear paralleled them on the trail before attacking the boy, Hicks said the witness told authorities.
The bear then attacked the mother who was trying to fend it off her son and was found standing over the girl’s body about 100 yards down a trail from the attack scene.
"I think there is a very good chance this is a predatory attack," said Bob Miller, a spokesman for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
"People forget sometimes that bears are predatory animals and may have simply seen her as something to eat."
The acorn mast, a primary staple for black bears, is low this year and other sustenance, such as berries, is not available.
The bears are subsisting on grubs and worms, he said.
"Little morsels" are all they can get, Miller said.
A witness used a cell phone to alert authorities to the attack, saying a bear had injured a boy and girl was missing. Another witness drove to a nearby ranger station.
The family, whose identities have not been released, are from Ohio and were believed to be day visitors and not campers. They were with a large group of people at the wading pool when they departed.
The bear grabbed the boy’s head in his mouth, Hicks said witnesses told investigators. The mother and other visitors began battling the bear with sticks and rocks when she was attacked.
The bear dragged the woman about 50 yards off the trail, Hicks said, before being frightened off.
The other visitors realized the girl was missing and began searching for her. About 10 minutes into their search, the visitors were joined by some members of the West Polk Fire and Rescue Squad.
After an intense 20-minute search they discovered the girl’s badly mangled body about 100 yards down a trail with the bear standing over her, Hicks said.
Squad member Danny Stinnett shot the bear once with a .380-caliber pistol, Hicks said, and it ran away from the girl. Stinnett said he hit the bear.
No blood was found at the scene, authorities said, and the bear has not been seen since.
A search for the animal was suspended about 2 a.m. Friday, and authorities placed two culvert-type traps baited with honey buns and donuts trying to lure the bear.
Friday morning they were awaiting six more traps and snare-type traps.
The search has been called while they see if the traps will be successful. All of the campers in the area, which has 88 campsites, have been removed.
The trapping area is 1,000 acres around the waterfalls and is about 10 miles from the nearest highway.
The boy and mother were taken to Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga where both were in surgery until early today.
The boy had puncture and claw wounds, particularly to the back of his head, Hicks said. His prognosis is good, but he is in critical condition.
The mother had lacerations and punctures to her right upper arm and thigh, Hicks said. She is under sedation, in critical condition and unable to talk.
"We have not been able to talk to her," Hicks said. "She may not remember the attack at all."
The bear actually picked up the mother in its mouth, Hicks said.
"A bear that could this would probably weigh between 350 and 400 pounds," Hicks said.
The little girl’s body was taken to a mortuary in Cleveland, funeral home owner Ralph Buckner said.
While authorities don’t know the gender of the bear or the cause of the attack, Hicks said bears are territorial.
"Male bears, however, this time of year get very territorially," Hicks said. "That may have been what happened to these people, he was protecting his territory."
Black bears rarely attack people, and authorities also are considering whether it is suffering from a disease that affected its behavior.
"It is possible that the bear has some kind of disease, possibly even rabies, that have caused this," Hicks said. "It might even be a parasite."
Any bears found in the area will be euthanized and taken to the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine where a necropsy will be performed.
There have been 42 sightings of bears in the national forest in the past two weeks, Hicks said, but this is the time of year that bears become active.
In May 2000, a woman was killed by a black bear near Gatlinburg in the national park. Glena Ann Bradley, a schoolteacher from Cosby, was attacked by two female bears when she took a walk on a trail near a Smoky Mountains campground.
Miller said that attack was a predatory one.