Black bears are the most populous species of bear in North America, and with their populations thriving, there are bound to be encounters between bears and humans. As we spend more time outdoors, run-ins with bears are expected to become more frequent. Most interactions, however, result in a quick parting of ways. And fortunately, the statistics show that if a mauling does occur, the chances of it turning fatal are relatively slim.
Over the last twenty years, wild black bears have killed twenty-four people across North America. That works out to 1.2 fatal attacks per year.
The following list showcases the twenty-four fatal black bear attacks that have occurred between 2003 and 2023. Some interesting statistics: the youngest person killed was a child six years of age; the oldest, an 85 year old female who had been illegally feeding bears on her property. The average age of these victims is 46. The most deaths have occurred in British Columbia, Canada; Ontario, Canada; and Alaska, all tied for first place in this deadly race with three deadly black bear attacks each. Fourteen females and ten males have been killed. All of these fatal attacks took place between the months of April and September, with June accounting for seven deaths, September accounting for five, and July accounting for four. Pick your months in the wilderness wisely, and consider a winter trip a bear-free wonderland (thank you hibernation).
Black bear attacks aren't as common as those done by a grizzly bear, but bear encounters seem to happen more often with brown bears, thanks to their prevalence in human-populated areas of Canada and the United States. You don't always have to venture into the backcountry to find suitable black bear habitat.
When bird feeders become food sources, the line between a neighborhood and bear country begins to blur.
Black bear attacks are infrequent, and deaths from black bear attacks are extremely rare. In fact, the North American Bear Center cites that you are 167 times more likely to be killed by a man 18-24 years old than you are by a black bear. That statistic may make the wilderness seem more appealing than a big city, or even your hometown, but these bear attack accounts are definitely still spooky if you're heading into bear country any time soon.
Fatal Black Bear Attacks (2003 - 2023)
1. Steven Jackson (66)
When: June 16, 2023
Where: Groom Creek, Arizona
The victim was in the process of building a cabin in the area. He was sitting in a chair outside of his campsite before 8 a.m. local time when a bear attacked him. The bear dragged him about 75 yards and began consuming him. Neighbors heard his screams for help amid the struggle and tried to scare the bear away by yelling and honking horns, but to no avail. One neighbor eventually grabbed a rifle and shot the bear, killing it, but Jackson was already dead.
2. Unidentified female (27)
When: July 31, 2021
Where: Swan Hills, Alberta
The unidentified victim worked for a helicopter company, which provided transportation for tree planters, when she was attacked by an adult female black bear. The bear was tracked and killed by authorities.
3. Laney Malavolta (39)
When: April 30, 2021
Where: Durango, Colorado
Malavolta's boyfriend was worried when their dogs returned from a walk, but Malavolta did not. She was attacked and killed while hiking with her dogs in the forest above and to the west of US 550, near Trimble. Her body showed signs of partial consumption. Authorities euthanized a mother black bear and two cubs found nearby. After an autopsy, it was determined that the mother bear and one of her cubs had attacked Malavolta.
4. Patrick Madura (43)
When: September 2020
Where: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Madura was backpacking in the park. His remains were found on Sept. 11, 2020 by backpackers in the park, near the remote Hazel Creek area where he had been camping. Backpackers first found an unoccupied tent at Madura's campsite, then discovered what appeared to be human remains across the creek with a bear scavenging in the area and alerted park rangers. An autopsy concluded that Madura had been killed by the bear.
5. Stephanie Blais (44)
When: August 1, 2020
Where: Buffalo Narrows, Saskatchewan
Blais was communicating with her father from a satellite phone while camping with her two children and husband at a family cabin on McKie Lake when the bear attacked her. Her husband, Curtis, was inside the cabin's kitchen 98 feet (30 m) away. The investigation showed the attack was unprovoked and predatory in nature. Curtis subsequently sprayed the bear with pepper spray, which only aggravated the animal. He grabbed a gun and shot it twice, killing the bear. It was the first fatal bear attack in Saskatchewan since 1983.
6. Peter Franczak (67)
When: July 1, 2020
Where: Red Lake, Ontario
Franczak went blueberry picking in the morning and did not return. Ontario Provincial Police officers went to search for him and found his remains, along with a black bear in the area. Cause of death was determined to be a bear attack. The bear was killed by police when they arrived at the scene.
7. Catherine Sweatt-Mueller (62)
When: September 1, 2019
Where: Red Pine Island, Ontario
Sweatt-Mueller left her cabin on an island on Rainy Lake, Ontario, to check on her dogs. Her mother was concerned when her dogs returned without her. In the search for the missing woman, police encountered a large black bear near her body. The bear, which was behaving in a predatory manner, was killed on the spot.
8. Erin Johnson (27)
When: June 19, 2017
Where: Pogo Mine, Alaska
Johnson, a contract employee for Pogo Mine, was killed while collecting soil samples. The bear attacked from behind. This bear was shot and killed by mine personnel upon direction of Alaska Wildlife Troopers. This was the second fatal black bear attack in two days.
9. Patrick Cooper (16)
When: June 18, 2017
Where: Indian, Alaska
Cooper was chased and mauled by a bear while running in the juniors' division of a popular trail running race. Cooper texted his family after completing the race, to say he was being followed by a bear. Searchers found the runner's remains 500 yards from the trail and shot the bear in the face with a shotgun, which nonetheless scared the bear and forced him into the woods away from the body.
10. Barbara Paschke (85)
When: September 27, 2015
Where: west of Kalispell, Montana
Paschke was attacked inside her home near Kalispell by a black bear. According to Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, Paschke regularly illegally provided grain and birdseed to bears on her property, and had been cited for illegally feeding bears and other wildlife in 2012. Paschke died of her injuries on October 1, 2015, in a Kalispell hospital. Officials trapped and euthanized two food-conditioned black bears on Paschke's property, but were unable to capture or remove the bear that attacked Paschke. DNA identified one of the euthanized bears as a sibling of the bear involved in the fatal attack.
11. Daniel Ward O'Connor (27)
When: May 10, 2015
Where: near Mackenzie, British Columbia
Ward was killed by a bear while he slept near the fire pit at his campsite. His fiancée who slept in a nearby motorhome discovered his partially consumed body the following morning. The bear was later shot and killed by conservation officers, along with a wolf, as they were initially unsure of which animals killed Ward. His injuries were confirmed to be consistent with those of a black bear attack.
12. Darsh Patel (22)
When: September 21, 2014
Where: near West Milford, New Jersey
Patel was about to begin hiking with four friends in Apshawa Preserve when they met a man and a woman at the entrance who told them there was a bear nearby and advised them to turn around. They continued on, found the bear, and Patel and another hiker took photos. They turned and began walking away, but the bear followed them. The hikers ran in different directions, and found that Patel was missing when they regrouped. Authorities found Patel's body after searching for two hours. A black bear found in the vicinity was killed. According to the State Department of Environmental Protection, this was the first fatal bear attack on a human in New Jersey on record.
13. Lorna Weafer (36)
When: May 7, 2014
Where: near Fort McMurray, Alberta
Weafer, a Suncor worker was attacked at the remote North Steepbank oil sands mine site while walking back to work after a trip to the washroom. Efforts by co-workers to scare off the bear were unsuccessful. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police shot and killed the bear upon arrival. A preliminary investigation determined that the attack was predatory.
14. Robert Weaver (64)
When: June 6, 2013
Where: George Lake near Delta Junction, Alaska
Weaver was attacked by a black bear while walking back to his cabin on George Lake, according to his wife, who was able to flee inside the cabin and was uninjured. A 230 pound adult male black bear on the scene was killed by troopers and found to have some of Weaver's remains in his stomach.
15. Lana Hollingsworth (61)
When: July 25, 2011
Where: Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona
Hollingsworth was attacked by a 250 pound black bear while walking her dog at a country club. Nearly a month later and after eleven surgeries, she died from a massive brain hemorrhage, which doctors believe was a result of the attack. The bear was tracked, shot, and killed.
16. Bernice Adolph (72)
When: June 2011
Where: near Lillooet, British Columbia
Adolph's remains were found by police dogs after she was reported missing. She was an elder in the Xaxli'p First Nation. There was evidence that bears fed on Adolph's remains, and tried to enter her house. An autopsy confirmed that she died from a bear attack. Five bears suspected of being involved were killed by conservation officers, and DNA tests confirmed that one of the dead bears killed Adolph.
17. Donna Munson (74)
When: August 6, 2009
Where: Ouray, Colorado
Munson had been feeding bears for a decade, and was repeatedly warned by wildlife officials. After a bear was injured in a fight with an older and bigger bear, Munson left food out to help the injured bear. The older bear came back to Munson's property, forced its way past a wire fence, and mauled Munson. Later, wildlife officials killed two bears on Munson's property. One of the bears had a necropsy which revealed evidence that it consumed Munson.
18. Cécile Lavoie (70)
When: May 30, 2008
Where: near La Sarre, Quebec
After Lavoie didn't return to her cabin following a solo fishing outing, her husband went looking for her. He found a bear dragging her body into the woods.
19. Robin Kochorek (31)
When: July 20, 2007
Where: Panorama Mountain Resort, British Columbia
Kochorek was reported missing after mountain biking. A black bear was found near her corpse the morning after her disappearance. The bear was shot on sight by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and was considered "an aggressive bear."
20. Samuel Evan Ives (11)
When: June 17, 2007
Where: Uinta National Forest, Utah
Ives was grabbed from a family tent in American Fork Canyon, and mauled. State wildlife officials killed the bear, which had entered the campsite the night before. Ives' family sued the U.S. Forest Service because there was no warning about the bear's presence. A judge awarded the family $1.95 million. It was the first known fatal black bear attack in Utah.
21. Elora Petrasek (6)
When: April 13, 2006
Where: Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee
A 350-400 pound bear attacked the family at a waterfall near a campground, after several visitors attempted to drive it off the trail. Petrasek's mother and brother were also mauled. The bear charged the county fire and rescue chief who showed up on scene, and then fired two shots it. The bear ran away, and was eventually trapped and killed. An unrelated bear was also mistakenly killed.
22. Jacqueline Perry (30)
When: September 6, 2005
Where: Missinaibi Lake Provincial Park, Ontario
Perry was killed in an attack at a remote campsite. Her husband was seriously injured trying to protect her with a Swiss Army knife, and later was given a Star of Courage award from Governor General Michaelle Jean. Ministry of Natural Resources staff shot and killed the bear near the area where the fatal attack occurred.
23. Harvey Robinson (69)
When: August 26, 2005
Where: Selkirk, Manitoba
Robinson was fatally mauled while picking plums north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Robinson's family were investigating the area with an RCMP officer later that day, and were also attacked. The officer shot and killed the bear.
24. Merlyn Carter (71)
When: June 14, 2005
Where: Nonacho Lake, Northwest Territories
Carter was found dead in the main cabin of his fishing camp when his son and wife arrived there one day after him. He was found with a flashlight, leading officials to believe the attack happened the night he arrived. When Carter's son arrived, a black bear approached him and his mother, and he shot the bear. The bear's body was later found by wildlife officials in the woods.
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