Autopsy Reveals the First Confirmed Fatal Black Bear Attack in California’s History

An unprecedented event occurred last fall when 71-year-old Patrice Miller became the first person in recorded California history to be killed by a black bear. The incident occurred in the small Sierra town of Downieville, shocking both wildlife experts and the local community.

Sheriff’s deputies arrived at Miller’s home for a welfare check in November 2023, only to encounter a gruesome scene. They found bloody bear paw prints and Miller’s body, which had been partially eaten and dragged through the house. Initially, deputies believed that Miller had died from other causes and was then mauled by an opportunistic bear that had broken into her home. This assumption seemed logical given that bears typically avoid human confrontation and the state had never recorded a fatal bear attack.

However, a subsequent autopsy, which wasn’t publicized until this month, revealed a surprising and grim reality: the bear had actually killed Miller in her bedroom.

Investigators concluded that the bear entered the home through a kitchen window. Sierra County Sheriff Mike Fisher noted that the bear had likely been in the house for several days, feeding on Miller’s remains. The bear had looted what it could find in the home, leaving behind a pile of bear scat before it departed.

Wildlife experts were baffled by this case. Black bears typically avoid human confrontation, making this attack highly unusual. Miller had been aware of the bear’s presence for months, even nicknaming it “Big Bastard.” Reports from her friends indicated she had to physically confront the bear to keep it out of her house. A friend mentioned that Miller had expressed fear about the bear in the months leading up to the incident.

The incident has profoundly impacted the Downieville community, which has seen an increase in bear activity in recent years. Residents have become accustomed to bears scavenging for food in trash cans and cars. Miller’s home, with its vegetable garden and unsecured garbage, was a prime target for the bear.

The bear responsible for Miller’s death was euthanized after it was trapped on another homeowner’s property. This decision came after a standoff between the Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. DNA tests later confirmed that this bear had indeed killed Miller. Reports of bear activity in the area have significantly decreased following the euthanization of another aggressive bear in the same period.

Sheriff Mike Fisher emphasized that public safety is the primary concern, not the widespread euthanization of black bears. However, the incident has highlighted the need for better bear management and public awareness about securing food and garbage.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California
Back to top button