Grizzly shot, killed after fatal attack of California woman

A grizzly bear that pulled a California woman from her tent and fatally attacked her earlier this week has been shot and killed in Montana

HELENA Mont. -- A grizzly bear that pulled a California woman from her tent and killed her earlier this week was fatally shot early Friday by wildlife officials, who used night vision goggles to stake out a chicken coop that the bear raided near the small Montana town where the woman was attacked.

The bear was shot by federal wildlife workers shortly after midnight when it approached a trap set near the coop about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from Ovando, where Leah Davis Lokan, 65, of Chico, California, was killed early Tuesday morning, said Greg Lemon with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The bear had raided the chicken coop overnight Wednesday, and officials set a baited trap nearby hoping to lure the animal back, Lemon said. Local authorities said a closure of campsites in town would continue until DNA evidence in the case is returned.

“Based on the size of the bear, the color of the bear and the nature of the chicken coop raids, we’re confident we’ve got the offending bear,” he said. Lemon said tracks found at the site of the coop also matched tracks found in Ovando.

The town along the banks of the Blackfoot River — made famous by the movie “A River Runs Through It" — has fewer than 100 people and borders a huge expanse of forested lands that stretches to the Canada border. The region is home to an estimated 1,000 grizzlies.

Bear attacks on humans are relatively rare, particularly in inhabited areas, and Ovando businesses cater to adventuresome tourists including bicyclists like Lokan who are allowed to pitch their tents in town.

Dona Aitken, an artist who lives about 7 miles (11 kilometers) east of Ovando, said the bear’s death would bring relief to the community. Aitken sees grizzlies occasionally and signs of them such as droppings and tracks, but hasn’t been bothered by them.

“Everybody recognizes this as really abnormal behavior to actually attack somebody sleeping in a tent in town,” she said. “I think we still don’t have a good answer for why he did that.”

Investigators gathered DNA evidence from the scene of Lokan's death and will compare it to samples gathered from the dead grizzly bear, which was taken to a state wildlife laboratory in Bozeman for a necropsy, Lemon said. The results could be available in the next three days.

Until then, Powell County Sheriff Gavin Roselles said he would maintain a closure on outdoor campsites in Ovando.

Lokan, a registered nurse who had worked at a hospital in Chico, was an experienced outdoors woman and cyclist who was on a much-anticipated mountain biking trip. She and two companions were camped behind the Ovando post office early Tuesday when she was attacked.

Friends described Lokan as a free spirit and competitive — and aware of the dangers she faced on the trip.

“She had a really good spirit. She always had a smile on her face. Always lit up when she saw you. Always gave you a big hug,” said Mike Castaldo, president of the Chico Cycling Team, who knew Lokan for about 15 years. “But I think most of her identity was, you know, outside on the bike, enjoying the outdoors was her thing.”

The estimated 400-pound (181 kilogram) bear awakened Lokan and her companions in an adjacent tent about 3 a.m. Tuesday, officials said. After the bear ran away, the campers removed food from their tents, secured it and went back to sleep, Montana wildlife officials have said.

The bear was seen by a video camera at a business about a block away from the post office about 15 minutes later, wildlife officials said.

About 4:15 a.m., the sheriff’s office received a 911 call after two people in a tent near the victim’s were awakened by sounds of the attack, Roselles said. They discharged their bear spray, and the bear ran away.

The bear is also believed to have entered a chicken coop in town that night, killing and eating several chickens.

Authorities hunted for the animal over three days, using helicopters and search crews on the ground and set out five large traps made from steel culverts and baited with roadkill in an effort to attract the bear.

Bears that attack people are not always killed if the mauling resulted from a surprise encounter or the bear was defending its young. But the bear involved in Lokan’s death was considered a public safety threat because of the circumstances of the attack.

On Thursday night, an Ovando-area woman came home and found her door ripped off and noticed large claw marks on the house, Roselles said.

Lemon said wildlife officials don’t have enough evidence to draw any connection between the damage to the house and the bear that killed Lokan, because they don’t know when the house was damaged.

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Brown reported from Billings.

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