A 300-pound male bear mauled a hiker to death in northern New Jersey in what officials say was the first fatal bear attack on record in the state.
Rutgers University identified the victim today as 22-year-old Darsh Patel, a senior studying technology and informatics at the school, who was hiking with friends in the Apshawa Preserve on Sunday when the attack happened.
"This is a rare occurrence," West Milford police Chief Timothy Storbeck said at a news conference today.
Patel, from Edison, N.J., was with five friends when the group realized a bear was following them, Storbeck said. They ran, splitting up along the way, and when the friends couldn't find Patel, they called police, who found the student's body about two hours later.
The bear was likely looking for food and was circling the victim's body from about 30 yards away when sheriff's officers and wildlife officials arrived, Storbeck said. He added that they tried to scare the bear away by making loud noises and throwing sticks and stones, but eventually shot the animal with a rifle.
The bear, which wasn't tagged, is being examined at a state lab for clues as to why it went after the hikers.
Patel was the second student from Rutgers University to die during the weekend, the school confirmed in a letter to students.
Caitlyn Kovacs, a sophomore, died after a fraternity party on Sunday, WABC reported. The cause of death is pending an autopsy, but police suggested it is alcohol-related, according to WABC.
Human encounters with bears are rare and decreasing in New Jersey, Larry Ragonese of the state Department of Environmental Protection said today, offering advice for anyone who comes across one outside.
"For folks who are out there hiking and looking to enjoy our nature, especially in the fall, we would want to tell them that if you encounter a bear in nature you must remain calm," he said. "Do not run. You want to make sure the bear has an escape route. You want to avoid direct eye contact with the bear. Back up slowly, speak with a low, assertive voice. Don't panic."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.