On Sunday, Father’s Day, 16-year-old Patrick Cooper from Anchorage, Alaska, was mauled to death by a black bear while running in an annual race in the mountains. According to a race official on Monday, Cooper was running in the 1.5 mile Bird Ridge Junior Division race of the 29th Annual Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb race when he found himself lost after leaving the main trail.
CBS News reported that a large black bear gave chase and mauled Cooper, but not before he phoned his brother, who was also running in the race in Alaska, and told him he was being chased by a bear. He apparently managed to text his mother too, who was another participant in the race; but, that has not yet been confirmed, according to Brad Precosky, the race director.
Cooper was one of dozens of other teens, according to Fox40, who took part in the junior division run along Bird Creek Trail. Alaska Dispatch News reported that Cooper allegedly was able to send a text his mother, telling her he was being chased by a black bear.
Chugach State Park Ranger Tom Crockett stated that although Cooper apparently ran off the main trail, he managed to call one of his brothers. Crockett said that while he was talking to his brother, the teen said “there’s a bear.” Crockett added that from the sounds the teen’s brother heard over the phone, “it appeared an attack had taken place.”
Patrick’s brother was close to the finish line of the race when he received the phone call from his brother. KTVA News reported that Patrick’s brother told the race officials about the call and asked them for help.
Another teen running in the Alaska race told the officials he had seen a bear circling Cooper. Though they lacked any weapons, a group of the runners ran back up Bird Creek Trail to try to help the teen. Newsweek reported that along with other runners, the response team that went to search for Cooper’s body also consisted of the National Guard, park rangers, the Anchorage Police Department, Alaska State Troopers and the Anchorage Fire Department.
The teen’s body was found by the responders approximately “a mile up the path at about 1,500 vertical feet.” According to Precosky, the response team also encountered the black bear, guarding the teen’s remains.
The bear was estimated to weigh 250 pounds. One of the park rangers who responded shot the bear in its face, but that did not kill the animal. Instead, the bear ran away.
One of the people who volunteered to search for the teen’s body, Anchorage Assemblyman John Weddleton, said that he encountered the black bear “a couple a hundred feet off the trail.”Weddleton stated that he saw the bear come rushing out of some bushes. He said that he yelled “Bear!” a few times to warn the other searchers.
The race runs between the cities of Anchorage, Alaska, and Girdwood. In an interview with KTUU, Precosky stated he has been running in the mountains for 30 years. He mentioned that at times when people have said they seen a bear while out running, it “means nothing.” However, he said that at other times it can be very serious.
Precosky stated wilderness areas like where the race in Alaska took place on Sunday are inherently risky, because it is a possibility that racers will encounter animals like bears and moose. A part of the registration process is that competitors must sign a liability waiver.
Despite that, Precosky said that because there are so many people out and making noise during a wilderness race, that cuts down on the risk of a person having an encounter with a bear, compared to if a person was out running in the same area on his/her own. He said that there might not be a safer time to be on a mountain than during a race.
Ken Marsh, a spokesman for Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game, said that state park staffers were out on Monday, searching the area where the teen’s body was discovered, trying to find the bear that mauled Cooper. Marsh said the bear’s attack was likely a predatory one, though such types of attacks are rare when it comes to black bears, which usually attack only to defend themselves or their cubs.
Marsh called the attack by the bear very unusual. Black bears can weigh in at 600 pounds and grow to be up to be “six feet long.” Alaska State Troopers stated that Patrick Cooper’s remains were airlifted from the scene on the mountain on Sunday.
By John Samuels