BREAKING: Durango woman found dead after apparent bear attack

Fatality occurred in the Church Camp/Falls Creek Trail area north of Durango, Colo.

(UPDATE 5/2/2021: The Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced on the evening of May 2 that a necropsy on the suspect bears found human remains in two of the three bears’ stomachs. No, we’re not a breaking news org, but no one else is reporting this, including the local newspaper, and human-wildlife conflicts are up the Land Desk’s alley. We will provide more context as info comes in. All info from Colorado Parks and Wildlife Press Release.)

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is reporting that a 39-year-old woman was found deceased north of Durango Friday, the victim of an apparent bear attack. If confirmed, it would be only Colorado’s fourth fatal bear attack on a person since 1970. The La Plata County coroner will perform an autopsy next week to determine the official cause of death.

The woman, a Durango resident, was believed to have gone walking with her two dogs earlier Friday in the Church Camp/Falls Creek area, according to information provided to the La Plata County Sheriff’s office by her boyfriend. The victim had last communicated with her boyfriend late in the morning.

The boyfriend, whose name has not been released, told the sheriff’s office he returned home around 8:30 p.m. and discovered the two dogs outside of their home, but the woman was missing. He started searching for her and discovered her body around 9:30 p.m. He then called 911 to report the incident.

CPW wildlife officers responded and observed signs of consumption on the body and an abundance of bear scat and hair at the scene.



La Plata County Sheriff’s deputies assisted in the investigation. CPW called in a dog team from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services to search the area. 

The dog team quickly found a sow (female) black bear with two yearlings nearby. The bears were euthanized and are being taken to CPW’s Wildlife Health Lab in Fort Collins for a necropsy. DNA evidence from the bears and the scene will be sent to Laramie for testing at the Wyoming Game and Fish Wildlife Forensic & Fish Health Laboratory.

“Bear attacks are extremely rare,” said Cory Chick, CPW Southwest Region manager. “This is a tragic event and a sad reminder that bears are wild and potentially dangerous. Out of an abundance of caution, the bears were removed for public safety. We ask the public to report any encounter with an aggressive bear to CPW.”

Chick asked the public to avoid the area as the CPW investigation with La Plata County continues. Wildlife officers worked throughout the night and into the morning to process the scene, looking for evidence to corroborate it was a wildlife attack.

An examination of the sow’s teeth led wildlife officers to believe she was over 10 years old.

CPW has received a few reports from the Durango area of bears becoming active this spring. The majority of these have been sighting reports. On April 19, a resident along the Animas River and La Plata County Road 250 captured a single bear on his game camera and reported that the bear tore down his bird feeder. On March 23, CPW received a report of a bear getting into trash east of Durango off Florida Road.

Bears are active statewide and it is important to be Bear Aware. To learn more about how to be safe in bear country, visit the CPW website.

FATAL BEAR ATTACKS IN COLORADO
July 25, 1971
: A honeymooning couple was attacked while tent camping near Grand Lake in Grand County. A large older bear entered the tent, injured the woman and pulled the 31-year-old man away from the campsite. The man was killed. The bear was later found and destroyed. Further examination of the black bear found that it had worn, abscessed teeth and a plastic bucket in its stomach.

Aug. 10, 1993: A 24-year-old Buena Vista man was attacked and killed after a male bear broke into a camper 20 miles north of Cotopaxi in Fremont County, presumably in a search for food. The camper tried to stop the attack by shooting at the bear, but it only injured the animal. The bear was injured by a bullet that grazed its rib cage, possibly increasing the intensity of the attack. A 250-pound, very aggressive male black bear with a fresh bullet wound to the rib cage was trapped and destroyed six days later. A necropsy on the bear revealed human remains in its digestive system.

Aug. 7, 2009: A 74-year-old woman was killed and partially eaten by a bear or bears at her home near Ouray, in Ouray County. As sheriff's deputies were investigating the scene, they were approached by a 250-pound, 5-year-old male black bear that exhibited aggressive behavior. Deputies shot and killed the bear after it approached them and showed no fear of people. Results of the necropsy on that bear were inconclusive as to whether it was involved in the original incident. Early the next morning, federal wildlife officers killed a 394-pound, mature male black bear that approached the home and exhibited aggressive behavior. A necropsy on the large older boar revealed human remains and remnants of clothing in its digestive system. A CPW investigation determined the victim illegally fed bears through a fence in her yard.