Alaska state fish and game biologists are combing the rugged, dense wilderness 25 miles south of Anchorage for a “predatory” black bear that killed a 16-year-old runner on June 18, one day before a worker at a gold mine located 250 miles away died after also being mauled by a bear.
“Both of these attacks were predatory in nature,” Ken Marsh, public information officer for the state’s fish and game department, tells PEOPLE. “And that’s unusual, an anomaly.”
High school freshman Patrick Cooper had just finished competing in a trail race, attended by hundreds of people, in Chugach State Park when he apparently wandered off the main trail.
Officials are still attempting to piece together Cooper’s final moments, but he reportedly sent out a “distress message” from his phone to say he was being chased by a bear, according to Alaska Dispatch News.
Family members alerted race organizers and, using the “Find My iPhone” app, were able to hone in on his location.
But by then, Cooper had tragically already been killed. State park rangers ended up having to shoot the bear, estimated to weigh around 250 pounds, in an effort to force it to move away from the body, but they didn’t kill it and the wounded animal fled into the thick brush.
“We expected to find a dead bear the next morning, but that proved not to be the case,” says Marsh. “We had a bear dog try and track it, but the trail eventually petered out, so we’re continuing our search today with aircraft once the clouds lift.”
Time is of the essence, adds Marsh. “This was a predatory attack,” he says. “An animal that targets humans is dangerous and it’s one we need to get rid of.”
Biologists are eager to perform a necropsy on the animal in an effort to better understand what factors could have led to the attack.
The day after Cooper’s death, two employees of the Pogo Mine in the state’s remote interior were attacked by a black bear while gathering geological samples.
One of the gold miners, whose name has yet to be released, died from his injuries. Mine workers arriving at the scene were able to shoot and kill the animal and state biologists are now examining it.
Following the attack, 24 other mine workers were recalled back to the company’s main camp, according to Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.