A black bear in Canada killed a 44-year-old woman staying in a remote cabin with her two children and husband, her father told a local news station.
Hubert Esquirol told CTV News he was speaking with his daughter, Stephanie Blais, over the phone on Aug. 20 to discuss a broken water pump outside of the family's cabin in Saskatchewan. At the time, Blais was visiting McKie Lake with her husband, Curtis, and their 9-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.
"Her son that was beside her, she ordered him to go to the house and get the antennae for the satellite phone so it could get a better connection, a better signal," he recalled to the station.
Esquirol then heard what sounded like a gurgling noise coming from his daughter's end of the line. He told CTV he called her name but received no answer.
"I called back and let it ring four minutes later, and I got no response," he said. "And seven minutes later Curtis called me [and said] that the bear had attacked Stephanie, he pepper-sprayed the bear, shot the bear twice, he attended to Stephanie and gave her CPR, but by that time she had no pulse.”
According to a GoFundMe set up after Blais' death, the family had previous training and experience in the wilderness. The "unprovoked and surprise predatory attack" involved an older male bear, a description on the page said.
"Our Stephanie had a zeal for life next to no one else. She was the most loving and passionate mother, who always spoke of how blessed she was to be able to be home and raise her children," a tribute on the GoFundMe said. "These were her most precious days. She was free-spirited and loved the earth. She shared this with anyone who crossed her path. Her joy, passion, love, compassion, wisdom and selflessness was felt by anyone who had the joy of meeting Stephanie."
Donations will be used to help Curtis care for and put money toward a college fund for the children. Curtis — whose son Braxton was a stepson to Blais — is self-employed and donations will allow him the "gift of time and options," the GoFundMe's organizers wrote. The page has raised over $75,000 as of Thursday afternoon.
"We are all devastated by Stephanie's loss and wanted to set up a way that all those who loved and knew Stephanie would be able to help out her family during these times," the donation page said.
According to CTV News, Blais' death is the first resulting from a bear attack in Saskatchewan since 1983.
Esquirol told the outlet that both he and Curtis are focusing on the wellbeing of the children and helping them through the traumatic experience.
"On the surface, they’re doing well, but I’m old enough to know that this is going to last for a lifetime, so we have to be careful how we read things," Esquirol said.
"[Her son] has many cousins his age so he’s got company. [Her daughter] knows that her mother was attacked by a bear. I don’t know if she knows that her mother is dead, but she knows that her mother was attacked," he added. "She’s quite bright for a 2-year-old, and I suspect that she knows that her mother will never come back."
While attacks by bears are rare, the U.S. National Park Service has guidelines for what to do depending on the species. In a brown bear encounter, the safest means of action is to lay flat on your stomach and place your hands behind your neck. Attempting to fight the bear will only intensify the attack, the NPS said.
If the encounter is with a black bear, the NPS advises running to a secure place — like a vehicle — or kicking the animal in the face if it attacks.
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