A black bear was caught in a forest recreation area Sunday and euthanized so experts could determine whether it was the same animal that attacked a family and killed a 6-year-old girl.
Authorities found a bear in the same trap where they detected paw prints on Saturday in the remote Cherokee National Forest Chilhowee Recreation Area, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Sharon Moore said.
The bear, which was captured near the site of the attack, looked to be the same size as the bear that attacked a mother and her two children on a trail in the recreation area on Thursday, she said.
“We’re very hopeful this is the bear,” Moore said. “It’s basically the same size bear. There’s truly not that many bears in the 5,000 acres we have closed off.”
The bear’s body was sent to the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville, where experts planned to perform a necropsy Monday. Results were not expected for several days.
Dr. Linden Craig, a pathobiologist, told The Knoxville News Sentinel that doctors will take samples from its gastrointestinal tract to determine if the bear had consumed any human tissue. The bear’s teeth will be compared to wounds sustained by the victim and its brain will be tested for rabies, she said.
“If it doesn’t have rabies, hopefully we can find something else wrong with it that could explain its behavior,” Craig told the newspaper.
A bear killed Elora Petrasek Thursday afternoon as she and her family were leaving a waterfall pool on a rugged, 1,800-foot-high mountaintop, about 10 miles from the nearest highway.
The bear bit the girl’s 2-year-old brother, Luke Cenkus, on his head and punctured his skull, officials said. Their mother, Susan Cenkus, 45, tried to fend off the bear with rocks and sticks but the bear attacked her, dragging her yards off the trail.
Her 6-year-old daughter apparently ran away and almost an hour passed before a rescuer found her body about 100 yards off the trail with the bear. The man said he shot twice at the bear with a pistol before it ran away.
Luke Cenkus was in fair condition and their mother remained in critical condition, hospital officials said Sunday. Doctors said they expected both to recover.
The family from Clyde, Ohio, had stopped at the forest recreation area Thursday while they were in the area to visit Susan Cenkus’ eldest son, a music student at Lee University in Cleveland, near Chattanooga.