Killed by a Bear
In July 1986, I took my family on a camping trip to Montana. My family consisted of my wife Lisa, my son Allen, and my two daughters Marie and Shannon. My older daughter, Marie, was approximately 17, her younger sister, Shannon, was 5, and my son, Allen, who was 2 ½ years old. We love the outdoors, camping, hiking, fishing, and sometimes just sitting outside looking at the stars. It was my way of spending quality time with my children both individually and as a family. We ended up at Arod Lake in northwest Montana. We set up camp and then walked to the lake, which was beautiful—you could see the bottom because the water was so clear. The air was so clean that you could smell the smoke from a campfire 500 yards away. My daughter Marie spent most of her time listening to her music at that time, using a cassette player, and wanting to leave to get back home to her boyfriend Richard. Shannon, however, wanted to be with me and had thousands of questions such as, “Where did trees come from?” At night, she would ask me who put the stars up there. So innocent were her questions. To look into those big green eyes and that happy little smile could make me want to cry at times. I just wanted to squeeze her, hold her, and tell her how much I loved her. I even remember giving her a star in the sky and named it, magic and no one could ever take it from her.
About three days into the camping trip, we decided to do some hiking. Of course Marie wanted to listen to her music, and my wife decided to stay with my son at the camp because she wanted my son to take a nap. So I took Shannon, and we started to hike and to explore the surrounding area. We were approximately a half mile away from the camp, and we ran across some berry bushes. Shannon wanted to pick berries, so I began to show her how to do so and how to avoid being poked by the thorns. We were picking berries for about 15 minutes when I heard a very strange noise that sounded like a small puppy. I looked around, and approximately 10 yards from where we were picking the berries was a small bear. At first, I thought it was a furry little dog. Then I realized it was a bear cub. Shannon wanted to pet the bear. I took her by the hand, and I told her to be quiet so that he would not notice us and run away. In the next few minutes, a cougar came out of the bushes and grabbed the baby bear in its mouth. The bear cub made a high-pitched squealing noise, and in a flash and out of nowhere, the bear’s mother was down on the cougar. The cougar let go of the baby bear, but the mother bear had the cougar by the neck in her mouth. I could see the light brown fur of the cougar turning to red; the bear shook the cougar as if it were a toy; the cougar made growling and hissing noises and tried to get free, but the bear had the cougar by the neck and did not let go. I grabbed Shannon and held her—she was just staring, and I became fearful that we might be attacked. The bear kept shaking the cougar violently and then let go and put both front paws on the cougar and pounded up and down on the cougar with her front paws. The cougar stopped making noise, and the bear stopped jumping up and down. At that point, the cougar was a bloody mess; I could see the places where the bear had torn the hide away and the cougar was bleeding and had become lifeless. The bear turned and took about 10 steps toward Shannon and me. I froze; I could see a tremendous wildness in the eyes of the bear as if I was seeing someone who had lost their mind. The bear’s eyes bulged wide, and the bear was showing her massive teeth, staring at us. The bear stood up on her hind legs, growled, and roared incredibly loudly. At that point, it felt as though the bear was 10 feet tall and was going to kill us. She came down on all fours, went to the bear cub, licked it, and turned and stared at us. It seemed as if she were going to say something. She then picked the cub up and disappeared into the thick bushes. I was shaking, and Shannon was in tears. She asked what that was, and I said, “a bear.” She said, “Daddy, that bear killed that kitty.” I just wanted to get back to camp. We did not stray far from camp after that, and Shannon could not stop talking about what she had seen.
Four years passed, and Marie got married. Shannon was her flower girl, and Allen served as her ring bearer. She married Richard, a fairly large guy; he weighed approximately 215 pounds and was 6”2’.a mechanic, and they lived in an apartment not far from where we lived. My wife really liked him and thought he was a great guy. I, though, that Richard had more stories than anyone I ever known and most of his stories, were untrue. A year later, they became the proud parents of a baby boy and named him Mark. My wife and I had our first grandchild, and we were thrilled.
When Mark was a 2 years old, Richard lost his job due to being drunk at work. Marie decided to go to work to support the family. I will admit that at this time, I did not really like Richard, so my wife and I would fight, and she would tell me to stay out of our daughter’s marriage. Shannon was about 12 now, Marie and my wife decided that Shannon could go to her house and watch Mark while she worked. It would give her some extra spending money, and Marie trusted Shannon with watching Mark. My wife would drop off Shannon at my daughter’s apartment, and Richard would bring her home after he came home from work. He had gotten a job at a gas station, so he could not watch Mark either. Shannon was so happy. She got close to Mark, and she would come home and say, “Dad, that kid is a handful, but I can handle it.” I would hug her and tell her how proud I was of her. Shannon watched Mark through the summer. Toward the end of summer, I noticed a change in Shannon—she wasn’t as talkative as she had been and would spend a lot of time in her room. My wife said that perhaps Shannon was getting ready to have her first period: my wife had detected some blood in Shannon’s laundry and said that she was changing, that she was growing up. My wife told me to try and understand.
I would go to Shannon’s room, and I would tell her, “Hey, I am still your dad, and anytime you want to talk, I am here.” But I noticed that when I would go to give her a hug, and she would pull back. It hurt to see her grow up, and I began to feel as if she did not need me anymore. On Friday, Richard came to pick up Shannon to babysit. He was in the garage looking through my tools, and I was working in the backyard. I was replanting bushes and planting flowers when Shannon came up to me with tears in her eyes and said, “Daddy I don’t want to go babysit, but I don’t want to hurt Mark, Richard is mean to him.”
I said, “Well, if you don’t want to go, we will have to get someone else to do it. Mark will be fine. So I asked, “Is there a reason you don’t want to go, why you are crying and what do you mean Richard is mean to Mark?”
“No I just don’t want to go.” She looked at me with those green eyes full of tears and said, “Daddy, Richard has been having sex with me, and I don’t like it, and I don’t want him to do that. He locks Mark in his room. He said if I tell, he would never let me babysit Mark again.”
My heart dropped. It felt like it had stopped. I was suspended in time; everything was swirling around like I was looking through a pair of binoculars with smudged lenses. I began to shake. I ran down the steps into the garage, and I screamed at Richard, “What have you done? What have you done to my Shannon?” He looked at Shannon and said, “What did you say you little bitch,” I then hit him with the shovel I had in my hands. He grabbed a razor knife from my tool box, and he slashed me in the stomach. I don’t remember feeling any pain, so I hit him again and again. He fell to the floor, and I got my hands around his throat and squeezed as if I were tearing a grapefruit apart. He stopped moving, and I backed away. I looked up; my wife was holding her hands to her mouth, and Shannon was crying. I fell over from the loss of blood.
My neighbors heard the commotion and called the police. The ambulance came, and I was taken to the hospital. I underwent surgery and was hospitalized. I had been cut open six inches, and my intestines were protruding. When I awoke, I learned Richard had died from the injuries, and I felt no remorse or pain—I just stared blankly at the ceiling. The police came into the hospital to question me, and I had a hard time telling them what had happened. Two days later I was charged with manslaughter. I was handcuffed to the bed and was not allowed visitors. I was taken to the county jail to await trial. The wheels of justice move very slowly, I couldn’t make bond, so I had to remain in jail. My wife took out a second mortgage on the house and paid for my lawyer. Throughout the time I was incarcerated, I was asked why I did it, and all I could say was that I didn’t kill a man; I killed a beast an animal. I said that I had become the same—like an animal—a beast, and I cannot tell you why, but something had happened to me.
I went to court, and after a very lengthy trial, I took the stand in my own defense, and I described the story to the judge. I told the truth. I explained that what had happened was because of my love for my daughter and that the man I killed had taken her innocence and her childlike abilities from her; he had taken my child, as I had known her, away from me—something similar to killing a child. All I had wanted to do was to hurt him and make him pay, but whatever had come up in me and had caused me to respond as I did is without explanation because I had never been in a fight and was normally very calm even in times of stress. In my testimony, I told the judge, “When he stabbed me, I felt unbelievable rage and fear, and I thought he was going to kill me, so I kept hitting him.
The prosecution asked me whether I was sorry or feel remorse, and I remember saying, “I am sorry for my daughter but not for Richard.” The judge sent the jury out of the room to determine a verdict. After the jury returned from deliberating, this seemed like forever, but was actually 6 hours. I stood before the jury, and the decision was read: I was found not guilty by reason of self-defense. I only wanted to go home. Six months later we lost our house because there was no income and all the money we had went to the lawyer. Marie moved to the East Coast, and I went to work and we got an apartment. I tried to pick up the pieces and go on with our lives. Shannon and I became very close, and, until Shannon got married, we still would go camping and sit out under the stars. My daughter, Marie, said, “Richard could have gone to jail and paid for what he done to Shannon, but when he got out she would never let him see his son again, because jail would never have been enough to repair this damage.”
On July 1st of this year, I got a call from my grandson, Mark on his birthday. He wanted to know how I was doing and was I in good health? His mom told him I had a stroke a few years ago. During our conversation, he said that he and Shannon talk a lot, and Shannon had told him about this bear she saw kill a cougar when she was little. He said, “You were lucky he didn’t attack you. Shannon said she was really scared, but you had picked her up and was holding her very tight with one arm.”
He said his all his life his mother told him his dad had died in an accident when he was young. He then went on to say his grandma, Lisa, told him when he was 18 what had really happened with his father and that he knew the truth of how and why his dad had died. He said, “I really would like to see you and go fishing or something, I want you to know that I don’t blame you or hate you Grandpa, for my dad’s death. “ He was killed by a bear.”
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