A 16-year-old boy competing in an annual mountain trail race near Anchorage, Alaska, was mauled to death by a black bear after texting his mother that a bear was chasing him.
The tragedy left the Alaska mountain running community and no doubt the family in shock. The victim was identified as Patrick Cooper of Anchorage, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.
“This is the worst thing that could happen,” race director Brad Precosky told ADN.
The Father’s Day incident occurred shortly after 12:30 p.m. during the 29th annual Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb at Bird Ridge. In the race, dozens of runners start at Bird Creek Trail and ascend heavily wooden terrain on a 3,400-foot vertical climb that covers three miles for adults and half that distance for those 17 and younger.
“The mother was here with her family, her children,” Anchorage Police Dept. Sgt. Nathan Mitchell told KTUU. “They were running the race.”
According to KTUU and ADN, the victim made it to the halfway point turnaround and was on his way down when he texted his mother about being chased by a bear around 12:37 p.m..
The family alerted race director Brad Precosky, who was already presenting some of the awards.
Presumably at about the same time, one runner “came barreling down the trail saying there had been an attack,” KTUU wrote, and a search was immediately launched.
GPS coordinates from the victim’s cellphone helped guide the searchers, which included most of the competitors, to the correct area.
The boy was found about a mile from the trailhead and 500 yards off the trail in steep heavily wooded terrain that was at a 30-degree slope, Tom Crockett, park ranger at Chugach State Park, told ADN.
John Weddleton, a runner who was there to cheer on the competitors, split off from the main search party and was the first to find the teen. He first heard the rustling of a bear.
“I heard something above me and thought, maybe that’s him,” Weddleton told KTUU. “The bear came by me, maybe about 10 feet away, and then I saw [the teen]. No motion. He looked awful.”
The competitors reported seeing multiple bears along the trail during the race. Precosky said there was a brown bear sighting and a black bear with cubs. When a park ranger arrived near the scene of the attack, he discovered a lone black bear and shot it, but it ran off.
“It did definitely take a slug strike to the face when the ranger fired on it,” Crockett told ADN. “We know he struck it.”
Wildlife officials were attempting to locate and kill the wounded bear, estimated to be 250 pounds.
When officials reached the victim, he was pronounced dead at the scene. The body was airlifted from the area.
“I’ve been running in the mountains for 30 years,” Precosky told KTUU. “People come down off the trail and say they’ve run into a bear. Sometimes that means nothing; other times, it’s really serious. Like this.”
The trail was closed as wildlife officials continued to search for the wounded bear.
“This young man didn’t do anything wrong,” Crockett told ADN. “He was just in the wrong place. You can’t predict which bear is going to be predatory.”
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