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Officials fatally shoot bear that killed boy in Utah wilderness

June 19, 2007|From the Associated Press

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. Wildlife officers led by hound dogs killed the bear Monday.

The boy was the first person killed in Utah by a black bear, officials said. His death follows several bear sightings this spring and occurred just hours after other people in the same primitive campsite probably encountered the same animal.

After the bear was shot, an examination of the remains confirmed that it had killed the boy, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said.

"Truly a tragic event," said Jim Karpowitz, director of the agency. "Events of this type are extremely rare in Utah."

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.

The stepfather said he heard the boy screaming, "Something's dragging me!" and his sleeping bag was gone. The cut in the nylon tent was so clean, his family believed the boy had been abducted, U.S. Forest Service officers said.

Wearing flip-flops and without a flashlight, the stepfather searched for the boy and 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. The boy's body was found about 400 yards from the tent, said Lt. Dennis Harris of the Utah County sheriff's office. His identity was not released.

Authorities said the bear, weighing as much as 300 pounds, probably was the same one another group of campers encountered 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," Francom said.

Authorities said they searched for the bear Sunday but dogs lost the scent as the day warmed up. Both attacks happened at an undeveloped site off a forest road leading to Mt. Timpanogos.

After the boy's death, state and federal wildlife officers returned Monday with 26 dogs. Officers tracked and shot the bear. The animal wandered around wounded until officers fatally shot him about 11:30 a.m., a wildlife officials said.

It was not known what provoked the animal, though a bear can smell food for miles. "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. At Strawberry Reservoir, a bear ripped through a screen door at a cabin where residents had burned food and opened windows. Officers killed the Strawberry Reservoir 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.

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