Published June 18, 2007
AMERICAN FORK, Utah – An 11-year-old boy was dragged screaming from his family's tent and killed by a black bear during a Father's Day outing in the Utah wilderness.
The boy, his mother, stepfather and a 6-year-old brother were sleeping in a large tent Sunday night in American Fork Canyon, about 30 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, when the stepfather heard the boy scream "something's dragging me."
The boy and his sleeping bag were gone. The cut in the nylon tent was so clean, his family, who was not identified, first believed the boy had been abducted, U.S Forest Service officers said.
Wearing flip-flops and without a flashlight, the stepfather searched frantically for the boy and then drove a mile down a dirt road to a developed campground.
"He was pounding on my trailer door. He said somebody cut his tent and took his son," said John Sheely, host of the Timpooneke campground, who alerted authorities by driving down the canyon to a pay phone.
The boy's body was found about 400 yards away from the campsite, said Lt. Dennis Harris of the Utah County sheriff's office.
Authorities said the bear, as much as 300 pounds, probably was the same one harassing another group of campers in the same spot before dawn Sunday. Kurt Francom said his son, Jake, was kicked in the head through a tent wall.
"It could have been my boy," said Francom, a school custodian.
Wildlife officers shot a black bear Monday and flew its remains out of the Wasatch Mountains for tests to confirm that it was responsible for the fatal mauling. The officers used 26 dogs to track the bear's scent, shooting and wounding him. The creature wandered around wounded until officers shot and killed him several hours later, said Lt. Scott White of the state wildlife agency.
Authorities said the death was Utah's first fatal attack on a human by a black bear. It follows reports of several bear sightings during spring and occurred just hours after other people in the same primitive campsite likely encountered the same animal.
"Truly a tragic event," said Jim Karpowitz, director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "Events of this type are extremely rare in Utah."
The attack occurred in American Fork Canyon, a popular camping destination with elevations as high as 11,000 feet.
"When it's hot and dry like this, bears are short of food," Karpowitz said.
In May, officials reported black bears in Provo Canyon and Park City, including one that ripped through a screen door at a cabin where residents had burned food and opened windows.
Officers killed that bear because it showed no fear when biologists tried to scare it away with firecrackers, the wildlife agency said.
In July 2006, a black bear bit the arm of a 14-year-old Boy Scout while he slept in a tent, also in Utah County. The female bear returned to the campground and was killed.
Black bears, which are found in 27 states, are "generally less aggressive than other bears and don't prey on humans," said Stewart Breck, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Fort Collins, Colo.
The typical human-bear conflicts involve bears breaking into homes or cars.
"But it's not breaking into a tent and killing," Breck said.