British Columbia

Pitt Meadows farmer 'still in a bit of shock' amid probe into suspected fatal bear attack

The victim was picking blueberries after the season's end, farmer says. Now, authorities are trying to determine if a black bear was involved in her death as her family and the landowners grieve.

Authorities trying to determine if a bear was involved after remains were found last Sunday

RCMP officers investigate the scene where a woman's remains were found in Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Aug. 15, 2021. Conservation officers later suggested the possibility of a black bear attack. (Shane MacKichan)

Conservation officers are helping RCMP investigate if a black bear or other animal may have been behind a woman's death, after her remains were found on a Pitt Meadows blueberry farm last Sunday.

The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team is investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident in the 20000-block of Old Dewdney Trunk Road.

On Friday afternoon, the Conservation Officer Service suggested the "the possibility of an animal attack" in the death. 

The woman's remains were found in a field at a local blueberry farm, which had shuttered its operations weeks ago after the season's end.

The farm's owner said the victim was a family acquaintance who had asked to come back to harvest any leftover crop after this year's harvest was complete.

"We're still in a bit of shock — family-wise, I guess it's how you would expect. We're having a hard time wrapping our head around it," said Austin, who asked to be identified only by his first name, in an interview with CBC News. 

"We don't know how it happened, because black bears as far as I know don't usually charge at humans.

"But maybe she stumbled across it too close while it was in the field and it didn't see her until it was too late. ... I've been told sometimes they wander closer, but no one in my family who have been there six years have ever seen a bear before."

He said his father found the woman's remains on the property, initially believing she had been stabbed. He later learned the wound may have been from a black bear's claw.

Authorities have placed bear traps around the area, he added.

The investigation into the cause of death is still incomplete, according to conservation officers.

"The Conservation Officer Service is continuing to assist the RCMP in their investigation and are working to determine whether an animal, such as a black bear, may have been involved in this incident," the agency said in a statement on Facebook.

Earlier in the week, investigators said they believed an animal may have disturbed the woman's remains after her death.

Now, although the cause of the woman's death still remains unknown, the service has urged people to "take precautions" in the Pitt Meadows area in case it was caused by an animal. 

Meanwhile, IHIT said it is working with the B.C. Coroners Service and awaiting the results of an autopsy. 

Conservation officers shared advice to avoid conflicts with black bears. They said never to feed wildlife, which is illegal, and to remain calm while slowly backing away, "talking to the bear in a quiet, monotone voice."

Officers urged people never to scream, turn their back or make direct eye contact with a bear, or to block its escape route.

"Predator Attack Team specialists remained at the site on Friday as the investigation continues," the service said.

RCMP officers investigate the scene where a woman's remains were found near a Pitt Meadows, B.C., blueberry farm on Aug. 15, 2021. (Shane MacKichan)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David P. Ball

Journalist

David P. Ball is a multimedia journalist with CBC News in Vancouver. He has previously reported for the Toronto Star, Agence France-Presse, and The Tyee, and has won awards from the Canadian Association of Journalists and Jack Webster Foundation. You can send story tips or ideas to david.ball@cbc.ca, or contact him on Twitter.

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