COOKE CITY, Mont. — A woman who was attacked by a bear at a Montana campground says she was bit on her arm and leg before she instinctively played dead so the animal would leave her alone.
At least one bear rampaged through a heavily occupied campground Wednesday near Yellowstone National Park in the middle of the night, killing one man and injuring Deb Freele of Ontario and another man.
Freele said on Thursday’s network morning talk shows that she wants to thank the people in the next campground who helped rescue her after the bear left the area.
Freele is a frequent camper who says she’s ready to go camping again despite the trauma.
Wildlife officials were trying to capture the bear late Wednesday.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
COOKE CITY, Mont. (AP) — When he heard the first scream in a campground outside Yellowstone National Park, Don Wilhelm thought it was just teenagers, maybe a domestic dispute in the middlle of the night.
The wildlife biologist from Texas tried to go back to sleep, stifling thoughts that a beast might be lurking outside his family’s tent.
Minutes later, another scream — this one coming from the next campsite over, where a bear had torn through a tent and sunk its teeth into the arm of the middle-aged Canadian woman inside.
“First she said, “No!’ Then we heard her say, ‘It’s a bear! I’ve been attacked by a bear!” said Wilhelm’s wife, Paige.
By that point, the bear already had ripped into another tent a few campsites away, chomping into the leg of a teenager who had been sleeping with his family. Wilhelm later would find out that a solo camper at the other end of the heavily occupied Soda Butte Campground had been killed in a rampage Wednesday that one wildlife officials described as the most brazen bear attack in the Yellowstone area since the 1980s.
But in the pitch-black wilderness, the Wilhelms had only sounds to go on: The yells from the teenager and his sister, the Canadian woman’s screaming of “No!” as she was attacked, the snorting and huffing noises from the bear as it sniffed around thickly forested campground.
And then, finally, quiet.
After a quick parental back-and-forth over whether to shield their 9- and 12-year-old sons with their bodies or make a break for it, the Wilhelms took advantage of the silence and darted to their SUV.
They drove around the campground, honking their horns and yelling out the windows to alert other campers. Along the way, the met with a truck leaving the campground with the second victim — a teenager who apparently tried in vain to fight off the bear by punching it in the nose.
“It was like a nightmare, couldn’t possibly happen,” Paige Wilhelm said later. Added Don Wilhelm: “Words cannot describe what it’s like to hear someone attacked by a bear.”
Wildlife officials still were attempting to capture the bear — or bears — late Wednesday evening, with five baited traps set up at the scene of the maulings.
Two were set in the campsite used by the dead victim. From the roadside, a large tear could be seen in the side of his small brown tent, which was left up.
The campground, also the site of the historic Cooke City cemetery, was closed.
“We don’t know if it was one bear, two bears, a black bear or grizzly bear,” Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim said. “Obviously, the bear’s gone now. Will it come back tonight? That’s the question.”
Authorities were collecting bear hair and saliva and measuring the bite wounds of victims to determine the type and number of bears involved.
If a bear is caught and tied to the attack by DNA or other evidence, it will be killed.
Names and ages of the victims had not been released.
The woman identified by the Wilhelms as Canadian suffered severe lacerations and crushed bones from bites on her arms. The male survivor suffered puncture wounds on his calf.
The nature of the dead victim’s wounds were not revealed.
Both survivors initially were taken to the Super 8 Motel in nearby Cooke City — a tourist town just outside Yellowstone — and later via ambulance to a hospital in Cody, Wyo.
The same campground was the site of a 2008 attack in which a grizzly bear bit and injured a man sleeping in a tent. A young adult female grizzly was captured in a trap four days later and transported to a bear research center at Washington State University in Pullman.
The latest attack left residents and visitors to this national park satellite community on edge. Many people were carrying bear spray — a pepper-based deterrent more commonly seen in Yellowstone’s backcountry than on the streets of Cooke City.
“The suspicion among a lot of the residents is that the bear they caught (in 2008) was not the right one,” said Gary Vincelette, who has a cabin in nearby Silver Gate.
Last year, another grizzly broke into three cabins in the nearby community of Silver Gate, said Vincelette. That bear was shot and killed by a Silver Gate resident when it returned to the area.
“Three attacks in three years — we haven’t ever had anything like that and I’ve been coming up here since I was a kid,” Vincelette said.
About 600 grizzly bears and hundreds of less-aggressive black bears live in the Yellowstone area.
The region is pasted with hundreds of signs warning visitors to keep food out of the bruins’ reach. Experts say that bears who eat human food quickly become habituated to people, increasing the danger of an attack.
Yet in the case of the Soda Butte Campground attack, all the victims had put their food into metal food canisters installed at campsite, Fish, Wildlife and Parks Warden Capt. Sam Sheppard said.
“They were doing things right,” Sheppard said. “It was random. I have no idea why this bear picked these three tents out of all the tents there.”
Wildlife officials were inspecting the campground to determine what happened.
Park County dispatchers took a 911 call early Wednesday from a male reporting that a bear had bitten his ankle and was tearing up tents, Aasheim said. Dispatchers got two more calls, including one from a man who said a bear bit the leg of his daughter’s boyfriend.
At 3:50 a.m., park officials went through the campground to advise campers to get into their cars. A half-hour later, the dead male was discovered at a campsite. Authorities evacuated the campground, sending campers to nearby hotels.
The 10-acre Soda Butte campground has 27 sites and is located in Gallatin National Forest, just off the mountainous Beartooth Highway about 125 miles southwest of Billings.
Sparsely populated and hemmed in by the Beartooth and Absaroka mountains, the Yellowstone wilderness surrounding Cooke City is home to numerous bears. A creek that passes through the Soda Butte Campground is frequently used as a travel corridor by area wildlife, Sheppard said.
The campground, which is run by the U.S. Forest Service, was one of three closed Wednesday while the attacking bear or bears remained at large. Forest Service officials said they would consider closing more campgrounds after consulting with state wildlife officials leading the investigation.