ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A teacher jogging along a rural Alaskan road was killed in an animal attack and authorities say wolves are the chief suspects.
The body of Candice Berner, 32, was found Monday off the road a mile outside the village of Chignik Bay on the Alaska Peninsula, which is about 474 miles southwest of Anchorage.
Authorities said the body had been dragged off the road to the village's lagoon and was surrounded by wolf tracks.
In an autopsy report Thursday, the Alaska State Medical Examiner listed "multiple injuries due to animal mauling" as the cause of death for Berner, a special education teacher originally from Slippery Rock, Pa., who began working in Alaska in August.
The autopsy could not say which animals, said Col. Audie Holloway, head of the Alaska State Troopers, but wolves are the chief suspect.
"There's no other carnivores in that area that are out and active," he said.
Wolves, bears, foxes and other wildlife have disturbed bodies in the Alaska wilderness, but Holloway said the autopsy ruled out other causes that may have killed Berner. Additional tests could tie the death to wolves, Holloway said.
"If we're able to actually prove which animal, it will be through some kind of DNA analysis or through some expert that can maybe testify or explain how they know that it's a wolf," he said.
Troopers have plenty of circumstantial evidence leading them to point the finger at wolves.
"There were wolf tracks all around the body, and drag marks associated with those wolf tracks," Holloway said.
Tracks indicated more than one wolf was involved.
"From the number of prints at the scene, we're thinking there probably were, possibly, two, three, maybe four," Holloway said.
Wolf attacks on humans are rare and there has not been a documented case of a wolf killing a human in Alaska. But concerns over the large predators persist.
In 2007, villagers in the western Eskimo village of Marshall posted sentries at night on the town periphery to keep wolves out after a pack of wolves attacked and killed six sled dogs. A wolf killed by villagers turned out to be rabid.
In Chignik Bay, a community of 105 residents, villagers were already were on alert because of wolves running boldly nearby, said Johnny Lind, president of the village council.
In comments Thursday before the autopsy results were announced, Lind said wolf involvement was apparent.
"It's obvious. Goodness. It's obvious," he said.
Since Tuesday, people were not traveling alone, school children were accompanied to school and armed patrols on snowmobiles were looking for wolves, he said.
"Everybody's kind of staying close to the village," he said.
Multiple calls left for the spokeswoman of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Jennifer Yuhas, were not returned Thursday.
Most adult male wolves in Alaska weigh 85 to 115 pounds but they occasionally reach 145 pounds, according to the Department of Fish and Game. Females average 5 to 10 pounds lighter than males and rarely weigh more than 110 pounds. Wolves reach adult size by about 1 year of age, and the largest wolves occur where prey is abundant year round.
Rick Luthi, the Lake and Peninsula School District's chief operating officer, said Berner during her short time in Alaska tried to take in as many experiences as she could. The district distributed a photo of her on a district outing catching crab.
"She wasn't going to miss anything about living in that area," he said.
Under 5 feet tall, Berner had boxed and lately had been training for long-distance running.
"She was a gymnast by early training and was in very good physical condition," Luthi said.