Lorna Weafer, the 36-year-old Suncor instrument technician who was mauled and killed by a black bear this week, is being described by her family as a compassionate woman who had dreams of becoming a psychologist.
Weafer was on her way back to work from a washroom when she was attacked by a large, male black bear while working at a Suncor oilsands site north of Fort McMurray, Alta., around 2 p.m. on Wednesday. She was declared dead on the scene.
Weafer’s family released a statement on Friday.
“We know the manner in which she died has led to a focus on her death,” the statement read. “But we would like to share some insight into Lorna’s life and her spirit.”
A woman who made friends fast
Weafer was born in Ireland before immigrating to Canada with her family as a child. The family moved to Fort McMurray in 1981. Some of Weafer’s family still live in Ireland, and were sending their condolences via social media.
"Heartbreaking and devastating news for all my family at the very tragic passing of my beautiful, vivacious cousin in Canada," tweeted Weafer’s cousin, actor Alan O’Neill.
“Lorna’s warmth and compassion knew no bounds,” read the family statement. “She had a busy life, loved her family and her dog. She absolutely adored children and had volunteered as a Big Sister. She was a warm, conscientious person, and she made fast friends.”
Family described Weafer as being incredibly organized, an avid photographer and very artistic.
While Weafer was an instrumentation technician — she had been working at Suncor since October — she has aspirations of one day becoming a psychologist.
“She had been talking about going back to study and become a psychologist because she loved helping people,” said the family. “She’d have helped anyone. And she often did.”
An attack no one saw coming
Those who saw the attack said it happened quickly. No one saw where the bear came from.
Mike Ewald, an investigator with Alberta Fish and Wildlife, said Weafer’s co-workers tried to scare the bear off using fire extinguishers, a water cannon and air horn — “all general things that should scare it off,” Ewald noted.
Employees told him the bear would shy off for a bit, but kept coming back, eventually killing the woman.
“This bear was very determined,” Ewald said, adding that the attack lasted about an hour.
RCMP shot and killed an adult black bear that was spotted nearby as soon as they arrived.
The family said in their statement they were grateful for the co-workers' attempts to save Weafer’s life.
“Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
Occupational Health and Safety, as well as Alberta Fish and Wildlife, continue to investigate the incident, trying to find out how Weafer's death could have been prevented.
Scott Doherty, a spokeman for the union Unifor, told The Canadian Press that Weafer was working in a team with six others at the time of the attack. Doherty said the union does not believe the workers were carrying bear spray.
Investigators have closed off a 200-square-metre area around the site of the attack and have set up several live bear traps in the vicinity.
After speaking to witnesses and conducting a DNA analysis, Ewald confirmed that the bear that was shot and killed by RCMP was the same one that killed Weafer.
A second bear was trapped, but Ewald said it was later released.
Based on the preliminary investigation, Ewald said this appears to be a predatory bear attack, noting there was nothing in the area that would have provoked the animal “in any way.”
“Predatory attacks are quite rare in Alberta,” he said. “The last fatal black bear mauling in Alberta was somewhere around 1991 in Slave Lake.”
In that incident, as 12-year-old boy was killed at a campground. Prior to that, in 1980, two oil rig workers were killed by a black bear near Zama Lake, Alta.
Attacks by grizzly bears are more common, he added.