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Biologists shoot, kill black bear suspected in fatal attack on young Bird Ridge runner

A sign alerts park users that the Bird Ridge trail is closed Monday. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

State biologists on Tuesday shot and killed four black bears in the Bird Ridge area, including one they believe fatally mauled a 16-year-old Anchorage runner in a mountain race Sunday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said Wednesday.

Officials say they are confident they killed the suspect bear.

The fourth bear shot had "a recent wound to its lower jaw," according to the statement.  A park ranger had shot the black bear found refusing to leave the site of Patrick "Jack" Cooper's body on Sunday.

"This is a serious situation, and we wanted to ensure we got the correct bear," said Alaska Department of Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh. "There's already been a fatality involved with this animal. It was a risk we couldn't allow to continue."

An intense search for the bear had been on since Sunday. While some details about what happened are unknown, park rangers and race officials believe Cooper got off-trail while descending from the Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb race turnaround point on Bird Ridge and sent a message to family by phone that he was being chased by a black bear. Park rangers and biologists have said the bear's behavior at the scene indicates a rare predatory attack.

After a ground search in steep, brushy terrain proved futile, biologists used chartered aircraft to search from the sky starting Tuesday afternoon, Marsh said. A fixed-wing airplane was used to spot for lone adult black bears in an area stretching from the Bird Creek drainage to ice fields above the ridge itself, said Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh.

Biologists shot the lone adult males from a helicopter, then landed or were dropped in to see if each was the correct animal, Marsh said. He said darting animals in the difficult terrain would have been impractical because bears often initially run when they are darted.

"The only real option in this situation was to shoot the animal and collect it this way," he said.

The first three adult male black bears shot did not have face wounds, Marsh said. Each was picked up by a helicopter and removed from the area.

The fourth, an estimated 180-pound adult male black bear, had a gunshot wound to the jaw. There were no other outward signs of disease. A necropsy that biologists say could answer questions about the bear's behavior will be performed.

"A large part of it is to see if there are irregularities with the animal that may explain what led it to become predatory," Marsh said.

Meanwhile, family, friends and community were gathering to plan a memorial service and offer help to the family of the young runner.

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