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Special Report from AAF Correspondent H. E.
from The Post Standard, Syracue NY


Bear kills 5-month-old girl in Catskills region

August 20, 2002

The Associated Press

FALLSBURG, N.Y. (AP) -- A 155-pound, black bear killed a 5-month-old girl Monday in the Catskills region, knocking her out of a stroller and carrying her into nearby woods, authorities said.

The baby was sleeping in her carriage by the porch of a bungalow, near her mother and two siblings at around 2 p.m., said Fallsburg Police Chief Brent Lawrence.

Witnesses told police someone yelled, "Bear, bear, bear," he said. 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, Ester Schwimmer, in its mouth as it ambled into dense woods 20 feet from the bungalow.

"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. "I wouldn't categorize it as an attack -- as far as a running, snarling attack."

Summer residents of the Machne Ohel Feige colony tried to scare the bear off.

Isaac Abraham, a community leader from Williamsburg in Brooklyn, said people desperately tried to save the girl. "People started chasing the bear, throwing rocks at it," he said.

The bear dropped the infant, but she had severe injuries to her head and neck, and was pronounced dead at Ellenville Hospital, Lawrence 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."

The bear had first appeared on the other side of the colony, and several men chased it away. It circled to the other side and approached the bungalow near the woods, said a man standing outside the gate Monday evening with several others. The man, who said he was a rabbi staying at a nearby camp but declined to be identified, said bears were common in the area, but this was the first time one had been seen in Machne Ohel Feige.

The child's parents had left the camp Monday evening to make funeral arrangements, he said.

"Everybody's paranoid," camper Toby Tessler said Monday night. A second bear had been seen, she said. "The whole camp packed up."

Ward Stone, state wildlife pathologist, said it was the first time he could remember a black bear killing a human. 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, he said.

"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," Stone said.

Tests also revealed that the bear had enlarged lymphnodes, but its organs appeared normal, he said.

Four bullets were retrieved from the bear, two each from its head and neck. One bullet passed through his right forelimb, 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 about 70 miles northwest of New York City, in the heart of what is known as the Borscht Belt. Big hotels and bungalows attracted thousands of visitors each summer, many of them Jewish families from New York City. Scattered bungalow colonies still remain.

The town swells from a year-round population of about 13,000 to 60,000 in the summer, Lawrence said.

The Williamsburg community in Brooklyn, where many of the campers are from, was in shock Monday, Abraham said. He said later the child's father is Shmaya Schwimmer, he said. The funeral and burial was held Monday night in New Brunswick, N.J., in accordance with Jewish tradition, he said.

Many campers were cutting short their stays and heading home.

The baby's grandfather is Mendel Schwimmer, who is active in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of Kiryas Joel.

"The governor knows the man," said Michael McKeon, Gov. George Pataki's chief spokesman. "At the appropriate moment, the governor will be reaching out to call him to express his condolences."

© 2002 The Post-Standard. Used with permission.

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