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Authorities try to catch bear that mauled Tenn. family

Sunday, April 16, 2006

BENTON, Tenn. -- A black bear that killed a 6-year-old girl and maimed her mother and 2-year-old brother may never be found in the rugged Cherokee National Forest, authorities said.

Officials have already used teams of trained dogs to find the animal's scent, to no avail. Now state wildlife agents and hunters are left to wait, hoping the bear will be drawn to the honey buns and doughnuts they used as bait in traps set Friday.

"We may never find it," said Dan Hicks, spokesman for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. "It may be on the top of another mountain by now."

Wildlife agents want to kill it and have veterinarians determine if an illness or injury led it to kill Thursday afternoon. Further complicating matters, the bear -- possibly wounded after a rescuer said he shot at it -- could go into hiding to recover, said Lynn Rogers of the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minn.

"There is a chance that the same bear would attack someone else, so I hope they do catch him," Rogers said.

Finding it may be just as difficult as coming up with an explanation for why the animal from a usually shy species pounced on Luke Cenkus, his mother Susan, and then killed Elora Petrasek.

There have been only 56 documented killings of humans by black bears in North America in the past 100 years, Rogers said.

A wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Geological Service who has been studying black bears for about 20 years said he has never experienced any type of aggression.

"Typically you won't encounter one because they sense your presence a long time before you sense theirs," Joe Clark said.

The attack occurred in a mountainous area, 10 miles from the nearest highway, in the national forest, which covers 1,000 square miles along the Tennessee-North Carolina line.

The Clyde, Ohio family was among several groups of visitors leaving a waterfall when the children reported seeing a bear on the trail.

Adults in the party were trying to drive the 350- to 400-pound bear off the trail when it attacked, biting Luke Cenkus's head and puncturing his skull.

His 45-year-old mother tried to fend off the attack with rocks and sticks but the bear then attacked her, picking her up with its mouth and dragging her yards off the trail.

The daughter apparently ran away and almost an hour passed before rescuer Danny Stinnett found her body some hundred yards off the trail with the bear.

He said he shot twice at the bear with a pistol before it ran away.

"I know I hit it. It reared up on its hind legs. It was as big as you and me," Stinnett, who is 5-foot-8, told The Associated Press.

The mother remained listed in critical condition at Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga with eight puncture wounds to her neck and many more claw and tooth injuries on her body. Her son was upgraded to stable condition Friday and doctors said they expected both to recover.

Neighbors in Clyde, a town of about 6,000 located 40 miles southeast of Toledo, Ohio, were trying to figure out how to help the family.

"She's a very, very gentle little girl," next-door neighbor Sandy Bundschuh said of Elora. "My memories of her are of her dancing barefooted in the yard with her flowered dress on, and her little white hat."


Associated Press writers Carrie Spencer Ghose in Columbus, Ohio, and John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, contributed to this report.


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