BENTON, Tenn. (AP) — Authorities put out traps baited with honey buns and doughnuts yesterday in hopes of capturing a 350- to 400-pound black bear that killed a 6-year-old girl and mauled her mother and 2-year-old brother.
It was only the second documented attack on a human by a black bear in modern Tennessee history, said state Wildlife Resources Agency spokesman Dan Hicks.
“There is a chance that the same bear would attack someone else, so I hope they do catch him,” said Lynn Rogers of the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minn.
Black bears generally avoid humans, animal specialists said. Rangers at the Cherokee National Forest, where the attack took place Thursday, said a disease, tumor or parasite might have made the animal more aggressive.
The bear attacked the family at a waterfall near a campground after several adult visitors tried to drive it off the trail, Mr. Hicks said.
The bear bit the boy’s head, then went after the child’s mother after she tried to fend off the attack with rocks and sticks, Mr. Hicks said. The animal picked up the woman with its mouth and dragged her off the trail.
The girl apparently ran away, and almost an hour passed before rescuer Danny Stinnett found the bear hovering over her dead body about 100 yards off the trail.
Mr. Stinnett, a county fire and rescue chief, said he fired at the bear twice with his .380-caliber pistol, scaring it off.
Dogs failed to pick up the bear’s trail in an overnight search, and authorities set out traps in the thousand-acre area around the site of the attack.
The girl was identified by the U.S. Forest Service as Elora Petrasek. Her mother, Susan Cenkus, 45, of Clyde, Ohio, was in critical condition at a Chattanooga hospital, while her brother, Luke Cenkus, was upgraded to stable condition. Both are expected to recover.
Luke suffered a bite wound that punctured his skull, while his mother had eight puncture wounds to the neck and too many claw and tooth injuries to count elsewhere on her body, doctors said.
Authorities have not been able to talk to Ms. Cenkus because of her injuries. “She may not remember the attack at all,” Mr. Hicks said.
Miss Rogers said that there have been only 56 documented killings of humans by black bears in North America in the past 100 years. She said the current population of black bears in North America is about 750,000, and there is generally fewer than one killing a year.