Girl dies in bear attack at Cherokee National Forest

Girl dies in bear attack at Cherokee National Forest

April 14, 2006

BENTON (WATE/AP) -- A six-year-old girl died Thursday after being attacked by a black bear in the Cherokee National Forest.

Her mother and two-year-old brother were also mauled at Chilhowee campground below Benton Falls on Chilhowee Mountain in Polk County.

The family was at a pool below the falls when the bear attacked, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency said.

Witnesses told authorities the bear picked up the boy in its mouth while the mother and other visitors tried to fend it off with sticks and rocks, said Dan Hicks, a spokesman for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

When the bear attacked, the 6-year-old girl ran away, authorities said. Rescuers found the girl's body about 100 yards down the trail from the falls. A bear was standing over her.

"Allegedly, after the rescue squad found the little girl, one of the squad members fired a shot from a small caliber handgun," Hicks said Friday. "We don't know whether the bear was hit or not. There was no blood, but it chased it off."

The identities of the three have not been released, but 6 News has learned the family was visiting the area from Ohio.

The camp site was evacuated after the attack and the two injured family members were flown by helicopter to Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga.

On Friday, a doctor said the boy had head wounds, likely from being bitten. The doctor says the mother has eight puncture wounds in her neck and too many to count on the rest of her body.

A doctor says the mother "was very calm" but he thinks "she was emotionally shocked."

The boy's doctor says he's "understandably frightened." Medical officials are looking out for infections to the wounds.

They say the two could be out of the hospital within a week if there are no complications.  

A search for the bear was under way Friday. Forestry rangers say the bear may be wounded because they shot at the bear following the attack.

Authorities say finding and killing the bear is the priority. A necropsy will be performed at the University of Tennessee.

Officers were using dogs and traps baited with honey buns and doughnuts. Wildlife officers planned to put out more traps Friday morning, he said.

Authorities also are asking anyone who was at the campground and saw the attack to come forward because witness accounts could help find the bear in the 640,000-acre forest along the Tennessee-North Carolina line southwest of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Rangers say black bears rarely attack humans and that the animal may have been suffering from a disease that affected its behavior.

"It's a pretty rare thing, black bears generally don't attack people. I can't think of any time other than -- just really rare circumstances," said Monty Williams, park ranger.

The last reported death by a black bear attack happened in May 2000 in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Glenda Bradley, a schoolteacher from Cosby, was attacked by two female bears when she took a walk on a trail near the Elkmont campground.

At the time, it was only the second deadly black bear attack reported in the U.S.

Good Morning Tennessee reporter Erica Estep and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Portions copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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