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Sunday, April 5, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Playing dead saved woman during bear attack

Victim says she woke up and grizzly chomped her arm

Deb Freele recovers at West Park Hospital in Cody, Wyo., on Thursday. Freele was attacked by a bear at Soda Butte Campground near Cooke City, Mont., Wednesday.  (Scott Salisbury)
Deb Freele recovers at West Park Hospital in Cody, Wyo., on Thursday. Freele was attacked by a bear at Soda Butte Campground near Cooke City, Mont., Wednesday. (Scott Salisbury)
By Matthew Brown And Ben Neary Associated Press

COOKE CITY, Mont. – One of the survivors of a deadly grizzly bear attack said Thursday she realized her only hope was to play dead after feeling the bear’s jaw clamp onto her arm in the middle of the night.

Wildlife officials were testing the DNA of a bear captured at the site of the early Wednesday mauling to confirm it was the animal that also killed a Michigan man and hurt another camper near Yellowstone National Park, but they said they were confident they had caught the right animals.

“Something woke me up, and a split second later, I felt teeth grinding into my arm,” Deb Freele, of London, Ontario, said from a Wyoming hospital. “I realized, at that split second, I was being attacked by a bear, but I couldn’t see it.

“It was behind me and I screamed. I couldn’t help it – it’s kind of like somebody else was screaming,” she told the Associated Press. “And then it bit me harder, and more. It got very aggressive and started to shake me.”

She kept screaming but then realized that if she didn’t do something, she was going to die.

“I decided at that point, the only other thing I knew to do was to play dead, and I just went totally limp, got very quiet, didn’t make a sound. And a few seconds later, the bear dropped me and walked away,” she said.

The bear believed to be responsible for the rampage at the Soda Butte Campground was lured into a trap fashioned from culvert pipe and pieces of the dead man’s tent. Wildlife officials left the 300- to 400-pound sow in place overnight to attract her young, and by Thursday morning two of her year-old offspring were in adjacent traps.

The third could be heard nearby through much of the day, calling out to its mother and eliciting heavy groans from the sow, which periodically rattled its steel cage.

By late afternoon, the cub could no longer be heard. Wildlife officials said it likely had sought cover as the day warmed up, and they hoped it would return Thursday evening because it could not be allowed to stay in the wild.

“Eventually he’ll get hungry and he’ll come back,” said Fish Wildlife and Parks spokeswoman Andrea Jones.

Montana wildlife officials identified the man killed as Kevin Kammer, 48, Grand Rapids, Mich. The bear pulled Kammer out of his tent and dragged him 25 feet to where his body was found, said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim.

Freele and the other victim, Ronald Singer, 21, of Alamosa, Colo., were hospitalized in Cody, Wyo. Singer was treated and released, and Freele was scheduled to have surgery today for bite wounds and a broken bone in her arm, said West Park Hospital spokesman Joel Hunt.

Singer and his mother, Luron Singer, did not immediately return e-mail messages from the AP. But Luron Singer told the Denver Post that her son, a former high school wrestler, had been camping with his girlfriend.

When he felt the bear biting his leg, he started punching the animal, she said. His girlfriend screamed, and the bear ran away.

“He is doing fine,” Luron Singer told the Post. “He went fishing today.”

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