Doug Schulthess of Cypress brought a camera along with him Saturday when he took his family for a nature hike in Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park in south Orange County.
The snapshot he wound up with was most unexpected, he said. That photo shows his wife, one of his two young daughters and a mountain lion.
The mountain lion was about 15 feet from the mother and daughter, Schulthess said, but "fortunately, it didn't attack one of my children like it did that little boy on Sunday."
"I got that photo by coincidence. I had turned around on the trail and was taking a picture of my wife and Natalie, and about that time my wife started screaming. She saw the mountain lion in the brush."
Schulthess said that his wife didn't panic. "She only screamed in surprise, and at first I thought it was a spider or something like that," he said. "When I saw the mountain lion watching them, I said, 'Walk slowly to me.' The mountain lion just watched."
Before hastily leaving the park after the mountain lion scare, Schulthess said, he and his wife filed a written report with park rangers. "The ranger didn't say much, but he seemed concerned that a mountain lion had come so close to people," Schulthess recalled in an interview Monday.
Less than 24 hours after the Schulthess family encountered a cougar, 6-year-old Justin Mellon of Huntington Beach was mauled by a mountain lion on the same nature trail and apparently near the same spot in Bell Canyon.
Schulthess said he saw what he described as the "big, beautiful mountain lion" about 2:15 p.m. Saturday. Justin Mellon was attacked on the same nature trail at 11:55 a.m. Sunday.
"I think it was the same mountain lion," said Schulthess' wife, Loye, 29, in an interview Monday. "When I read about the attack on the little boy in today's Times, I was really frightened thinking back because the mountain lion approached us from out of the brush just as it did with that little boy."
Doug Schulthess said he believes the fact that he and his wife were so physically close to their daughters on the nature trail prevented the animal from attacking.
"As we came into the park Saturday, there were Xerox warnings about wildlife, with pictures of a rattlesnake and a mountain lion," Doug Schulthess said. "We were told we'd be all right on the nature trail if we stayed close together."
Loye Schulthess said that she didn't really worry much about a mountain lion attack. "Yes, I'd read about the attack on the little girl (Laura Michele Small) in March, but that seemed a long time ago," she said. "You know how it is when time passes, and you don't think about something that happened as much."
Schulthess, who is an engineer with McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach, said the family was "on the nature trail, just outside the picnic ground in Bell Canyon at the time of its encounter with the mountain lion.
"I was walking in front, with Angela," he said. "Natalie was walking with Loye slightly behind us. When we had gone just a short distance from the picnic area, I turned around and told Angela to walk back to her mother and Natalie so I could get a picture of them together. I had my camera up, and Loye screamed."
Loye Schulthess said she heard "a scampering noise (in the brush), and out of the corner of my eye, I realized what it was and I screamed, but it wasn't a long scream. I stood there for a second holding Natalie, and Doug was saying 'walk slowly to me,' and that's what I did.
"I know it's a trite phrase, but I was praying every step. I really was. I was wondering what part of my back it was going to bite."
Doug Schulthess said he escorted his wife and daughters to a wide, open area where the creek runs through the park. "I knew I had to warn a family with children back in the picnic area, so I ran back down the trail," he said. "I told my wife to sing and clap her hands and to make noise while I was gone."
Loye Schulthess said she and her daughters did just that. "We sang all of Angela's preschool songs," she said. The mountain lion didn't approach them at that point, she said, and it appeared that the animal had left. But when Doug Schulthess returned from his warning run to the picnic area, the mountain lion again followed the family, he said.
"We were headed down the creek bed, and there was the same cat ahead of us. It just sat under a shady tree and looked at us again. And you know, it looked like a curious cat, and Angela said she 'wanted to go over and pat the cat.' "
The animal made no move to charge at the family in either encounter, Doug Schulthess said.
But Loye Schulthess said that after they learned the news about the attack on Justin Mellon on Sunday, "I was really shaken. I knew that the mountain lion all that time was probably watching little Natalie, and since she's only 2, she couldn't have fought him off like the little boy did. If it had attacked her, she wouldn't be with us today."
A search is pressed for the mountain lion that mauled a 6-year-old boy. Part I, Page 1.