Patrick Cooper was running the Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb in Chugach State Park in Alaska when he encountered a black bear on the trail. The 16-year-old runner knew he was in trouble and texted a family member to say that he was being chased by a bear shortly after 12:30 in the afternoon. Less than two hours later, Cooper’s body was found about 500 yards away from the trail he had been running — leaving the Alaska running community and his family shaken.
Cooper was only 1.5 miles from the trailhead when he encountered the bear on Bird Ridge — a popular running trail where the Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb race has been held for 29 years. As soon as his text was received, race director Brad Precosky, Chugach State Park rangers, and fellow runners launched a search using GPS coordinates from Cooper’s phone — but they were too late. John Weddleton, a spectator at the event, found the boy’s body and saw the bear responsible for the attack just 10 feet away. Weddleton reported the fatality to the formal search party, who were able to have Cooper’s body airlifted by helicopter off the mountain. The local police department received the call reporting the mauling around 3 p.m.
Officials were aware that the 250-pound black bear that had attacked and killed Cooper was still in the vicinity of the attack and sent out a search to find it. After relocating the bear, a park ranger shot it in the face, but the gunshot was not fatal. Rangers are still attempting to locate the wounded bear and kill it. During this time the Bird Ridge trail will be closed.
In the aftermath of the attack, Chugach State Park ranger Tom Crockett said that Cooper had done no wrong to provoke or warrant an attack — that he was simply in the wrong place with the wrong bear at the wrong time. Additional information has surfaced that the black bear that attacked Cooper wasn’t the only one on the trail that day. After the attack, several runners reported seeing multiple bears along the racecourse, including a brown bear and another black bear with cubs.
Given that this was the first fatal black bear attack since May 2015, it seems that attacks are uncommon occurrences. However, just in a matter of a few weeks there have been seven bear attacks and encounters reported in the state of Alaska and beyond.
The day before Cooper’s death, a runner named Paul Rottich spotted a black bear during the Mayor’s Marathon in Anchorage. Rottich was about 16 miles into the marathon when he saw the bear — which the pacing bikers of the race were able to scare off before he got too close. During the half-marathon race of the same event, lead runner Chad Trammell came within 50 feet of a black bear while he was alone in the woods at the race’s turnaround point. Fortunately, the bear climbed up a tree and no further interaction occurred.
Brown bear attacks are also making Alaskan headlines. On Wednesday, three teenage hikers were injured while hiking just north of Anchorage. The grizzly that attacked them had two cubs with her, and also later attacked officers. The mother grizzly was shot, but the injury was not fatal and the search for the wounded bear was called off indefinitely shortly after.
In total, seven bears have been shot in Alaska this year in defense of attacks and encounters.
One attack ended in a Canadian hunter walking away unscathed. A video captured hunter Richard Wesley escaping a charging black bear in the backcountry to Ontario, Canada, just a few weeks ago. Armed with just a bow and arrow, Wesley was able to wrestle the bear after it leapt onto him during the attack. He deflected the bear’s mouth with his bow and was able to escape. “…Genuinely happy that this was a non-fatal or tragic outcome, proving that the black bear is a wild and unpredictable animal,” Wesley wrote in a caption of the video.
It is estimated that there are about 600,000 black bears and around 31,000 brown bears in North America. As bear populations increase, urban sprawl spreads, and more folks get out into the backcountry, encounters are more likely to happen. It’s a numbers game, and studies are showing that bear attacks in North America are on the rise. To stay safe and prevent an attack, follow these six tips.