BENTON, Tenn. (AP) - Wildlife authorities are searching Chilhowee Mountain in southeast Tennessee this morning for a bear that attacked a mother and her two children, killing a six-year-old girl.
A two-year-old boy and the children's mother remain in critical condition this morning at Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga.
Dan Hicks with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says the family was from Ohio but he wasn't sure if they were in the area camping. No names have been released.
The attack occurred yesterday afternoon at a mountain pool below Benton Falls near a campground.
Authorities say finding and killing the bear is the priority. A necropsy will be performed at the University of Tennessee.
After the attack, witnesses scattered and authorities are asking anyone who saw the attack or was at the campground to contact the Forest Service or TWRA.
Rangers say black bears rarely attack humans and that the animal may have been suffering from a disease that affected its behavior.
The last known fatal attack prior to this one was in 2000 when a Cosby schoolteacher was killed by two female bears near Gatlinburg in the Smokies.
Authorities hunted Friday for a black bear that picked up a 2-year-old boy in its mouth and mauled his mother, critically injuring them before killing the child's older sister.
The attack came Thursday afternoon in the Cherokee National Forest in southeastern Tennessee.
The family was at a pool below Benton Falls on Chilhowee Mountain when the bear attacked, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency said.
Witnesses told authorities the bear picked up the boy in its mouth while the mother and other visitors tried to fend it off with sticks and rocks, said Dan Hicks, a spokesman for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. The mother and the boy were critically injured and flown to Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga, authorities said.
When the bear attacked, the 6-year-old girl ran away, authorities said. Rescuers found the girl's body about 100 yards down the trail from the falls. A bear was standing over her.
"Allegedly, after the rescue squad found the little girl, one of the squad members fired a shot from a small caliber handgun," Hicks said Friday. "We don't know whether the bear was hit or not. There was no blood, but it chased it off."
Hicks said the family was from Ohio but he wasn't sure if they were in the area camping. No names have been released.
Authorities have made finding and killing the bear their top priority so a necropsy can be done at the University of Tennessee, he said.
Officers were using dogs and traps baited with honey buns and doughnuts. Wildlife officers planned to put out more traps Friday morning, he said.
Authorities also are asking anyone who was at the campground and saw the attack to come forward because witness accounts could help find the bear in the 640,000-acre forest along the Tennessee-North Carolina line southwest of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The campground was evacuated after the attack and the witnesses have now scattered, Hicks said.
Rangers said black bears rarely attack humans and that the animal may have been suffering from a disease that affected its behavior.
"It's a pretty rare thing, black bears generally don't attack people. I can't think of any time other than - just really rare circumstances," said Monty Williams, park ranger.
In May 2000, a woman was killed by a black bear near Gatlinburg. Glena Ann Bradley, a schoolteacher from Cosby, was attacked by two female bears when she took a walk on a trail near a Smoky Mountains campground.