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Mauled in Her Home: California Confirms First Fatal Bear Attack in State’s History

After months of investigating, California authorities confirmed a 71-year-old woman’s death was the result of an unprecedented bear attack.
black bear hunting ban(Photo/Josef Pittner)
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California authorities have confirmed the first fatal black bear attack in the state’s history, which occurred in November 2023 in Downieville. The victim, Patrice Miller, 71, was discovered by police executing a welfare check. Her remains were badly decayed and appeared to have been fed upon for several days. It took investigators months to figure out what had happened inside the home.

On June 5, 2024, it was finally reported that the bear had been the cause of her death.

“Patrice had passed away due to a bear mauling or a swipe and a bite to the neck area,” Sheriff Mike Fisher told local station KCRA.

Initially, investigators did not know whether the bear had killed Miller or if she’d died previously, and it had been drawn in by the scent. What was clear as soon as they arrived at her home was that the bear had forced entry and fed upon her remains for an extended period of time. The sheriff told reporters that the bear returned to the residential home even after the remains had been removed.

“I was getting a lot of phone calls from concerned citizens that live in the area and other county employees,” Fisher said.

Eventually, California Fish and Wildlife officers captured and euthanized the bear. But the story has left the community rattled. Miller had had numerous issues and encounters with bears at her home before this, and other bears remain active in the area.

Black Bear Attacks: Rare and Almost Never Fatal

black bear
A mama black bear and her cub; (photo/Shutterstock)

Black bears are not generally aggressive toward people. Attacks on people by black bears are extremely rare, and fatalities are almost never reported. This incident is an exception.

“It’s a big deal,” Steve Gonzalez with California Fish and Wildlife told KCRA. “That doesn’t happen in California.”

Miller’s daughter told police that her mother had “constantly” been dealing with bears trying to get in through broken windows. She said her mother had to “physically hit one to keep it from entering her residence.”

One particularly troublesome bear was a frequent visitor at Miller’s home. She’d dubbed the problem bear “big bastard,” according to her daughter.

Fisher said he was unaware of Miller’s recurring confrontations with bears until after her death.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife claims there are between 30,000 and 40,000 black bears roaming the state. In some areas like Downieville and Lake Tahoe, residents are reporting higher numbers of bear break-ins than normal, according to KCRA. Nonprofits like Bear League have been established as a response. It loans out electric doormats to homeowners so they can deter bears from returning.

Bears that become conditioned to eating out of human dumpsters or elsewhere around human neighborhoods are often tranquilized and relocated or euthanized to avoid future conflicts.

bear family

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