California Cougar Fatal Attacks: Map & Details

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The murder of a cyclist by a mountain lion on Saturday in Washington has drawn renewed attention to the rare attacks by an animal generally reluctant to engage with humans.

Of six fatal lion attacks in the United States over the past 25 years, three have been in California. The others, in addition to the attack on Washington, were in Colorado and New Mexico. (Update, September 2018, seventh fatal attack: A hiker whose body was found on September 10, 2018 in the Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon, was killed by a mountain lion, that state’s first verified fatal attack by a wild lion.)

Prior to 1994, there had been only one attack of California cougars in the 20th century that resulted in fatalities – a 1909 incident near Morgan Hill.

July 6, 1909

Killed: Isola Kennedy, 38, of Morgan Hill, and Earl Wilson (or Willson) of Santa Cruz. Most accounts put the boy’s age at 8.

Where: Island Dell, a swimming area on Coyote Creek in southern Santa Clara County. The site is now covered by the Anderson Reservoir.

The Attack: A group of boys and their Sunday School teacher were picnicking at Island Dell when the teacher and one of the boys were attacked by a lion. A man with a shotgun could not shoot the animal clearly because he mutilated the woman. He eventually ran to his camp and got a gun and was able to shoot the lion in the head. Both victims survived the initial attack, but later died of rabies, Wilson in August and Kennedy in September.

April 23, 1994

Killed: Barbara Barsalou Schoener, 40, of Placerville; marathon runner, mother of two children aged 5 and 8. She was 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 120 pounds.

Where: Wendell T. Robie Trail in Auburn State Recreation Area.

The attack: Schoener was apparently attacked from behind by a puma while on a trail. Evidence suggests that she was knocked off a slope, then was able to briefly push the animal back and flee before he brought her back down. When Schoener did not return home that evening (a Saturday), her husband launched a search. His body was found the next day covered in leaves and debris, as lions often do with carcasses.

The lion: A 2-3 year old female was killed after a week of searching.


December 10, 1994

Killed: Iris M. Kenna, 56, of San Diego; high school counselor, ornithologist. Five feet 4 inches, 115 pounds.

Where: Lookout Fire Road in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, 30 miles east of San Diego. The site of the attack is approximately 5 miles from the Pacific Crest Trail north of Mount Laguna.

The Attack: Kenna was apparently attacked from behind and dragged off the track. His body was found after other hikers fell on his glasses and backpack.

The lion: An adult male has been killed. He had recently eaten a deer when he was killed, indicating that he had no trouble hunting his usual prey.


January 8, 2004

Killed: Mark Jeffrey Reynolds, 35, of Foothill Ranch; account manager in a sports marketing company, competition mountain biker.

Where: Cactus Hill Trail in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, a county park several miles east of Irvine.

The Attack: Reynolds’ bike was found on the trail; his chain was loose and he had apparently fixed it. Speculation is that he was crouching next to him when the lion attacked. His body was found after the lion, protector of the cache, attacked another cyclist later that day in the same spot.

The lion: A 2 year old male, 110 pounds, was killed.

What the three most recent California attacks have in common is that the victims were alone.

In Reynolds’ case, it is believed he was squatting, a position not advised by authorities to deter lion attacks. People facing a lion are told to appear as tall as possible, even to the point of standing on a stump or using their arms to spread a jacket wide.

Running away from a lion is also considered a trigger for their prey. People are advised to try to hold their own against a threatening lion, although this goes against human instinct.

The section of track where Barbara Schoener was attacked. There is now a memorial bench at the site.

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