Black bear kills infant girl
Death stuns visitors to New York resort
FALLSBURG, N.Y. -- Five-month-old Ester Schwimmer was nestled in her carriage for an afternoon nap outside her family's mountain bungalow when the screams began to pour through their community.
"Bear, bear, bear," witnesses yelled Monday shortly before a black bear snatched Ester from her stroller and dragged her into the woods as her mother brought her two other children to safety. Residents desperately hurled rocks at the bear as it ran away.
The bear eventually dropped the New York City infant, but she had severe injuries to her head and neck, and was pronounced dead at Ellenville Hospital, said Fallsburg Police Chief Brent Lawrence.
Authorities shot and killed the bear after hunting it down through the woods.
"It may be the first season that it may have been on its own, and it may very well have perceived this infant as a food source," Lawrence said.
The death stunned visitors of the Catskills resort community about 70 miles northwest of New York City and baffled wildlife officials who say black bears rarely attack humans. The American Bear Association says only 40 deaths in all of North America were caused by black bears in the last century.
"In all my many years, 34 summers, we've had them eat birdseed, get into trouble eating dog food in people's yards, but black bears are just not noted for attacking humans," said Ward Stone, state wildlife pathologist.
Ester was sleeping in her carriage by the porch of the bungalow, near her mother and two siblings at around 2 p.m. when the attack occurred. After hearing the screams, the mother shuttled her 4- and 2-year-old children inside, Lawrence said. Moments later, when she came outside again, the infant was gone.
Witnesses reported seeing the young bear with the baby in its mouth as it ambled into dense woods 20 feet from the bungalow.
Isaac Abraham, a community leader from Brooklyn, said people desperately tried to save the girl. "People started chasing the bear, throwing rocks at it," he said.
Department of Environmental Conservation and police officers pursued the young black bear into the woods, Lawrence said. Fallsburg officer David Decker shot it once.
"It was just standing there. It wasn't scared," Decker said. "As I walked toward the bear, the bear climbed up a tree. And that's when I shot the bear."
Initial test results showed the young adult male wasn't rabid. Its stomach had ants, seeds, vegetation and small plastic bags and fruit labels, showing it was familiar with people and their garbage, Stone said.
Black bears are common in that area of the Catskills region, Lawrence said. Fallsburg police get up to a dozen reports weekly of bears pawing through garbage cans or bird feeders, he said.
The attack happened in the heart of what is known as the Borscht Belt.
The town swells from a year-round population of about 13,000 to 60,000 in the summer, Lawrence said.
But many campers were cutting short their stays and heading home after the attack.
"Everybody's paranoid," camper Toby Tessler said Monday night.