Claudia Huber killed by bullet husband fired to stop grizzly attack, coroner finds

A Yukon woman died from a deflected bullet fired by her husband trying to kill a grizzly bear that was mauling her outside their home, a coroner's report says.

'An absolute, catastrophic collision of events,' coroner says

Claudia Huber, right, died from an accidental gunshot wound from a bullet fired by her husband Matthias Liniger, left, who was trying to save her from a grizzly bear attack, Yukon's chief coroner said Wednesday. (Facebook)

A Yukon woman died from a deflected bullet fired by her husband trying to kill a grizzly bear that was mauling her outside their home, a coroner's report said Wednesday.

The report said Claudia Huber's husband, Matthias Liniger, fired several rounds at the bear, which was on top of Huber near their home in Johnson's Crossing, Yukon, in October 2014.

The bear was shot twice and died, but investigators found a third bullet ricocheted off a nearby tree and struck Huber in the chest.

"What transpired at that property on that day was an absolute, catastrophic collision of events," said Kirsten Macdonald, Yukon's chief coroner. 

Speaking to the CBC Wednesday Liniger said reading the coroner's report brings back traumatic memories of that day. But he said the report's release will bring him closure.

"I had two choices," he said. "Either I go into the woods and leave myself to the wolves or I move on. And, Claudia is a person who would have kicked my butt and said, 'You'd better move on.'"

'A bullet killed her'

The incident started when the couple's dog started barking, alerting Liniger to the bear's presence.

The animal approached a window and put its paws on the glass, forcing it to give way. The bear then fell into the house and chased Huber and the dog out.
Investigators say the bear crashed through the front window of Liniger and Huber's house. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

Huber took refuge in an SUV parked outside and Liniger was inside a second vehicle parked nearby. The bear repeatedly jumped on the hood of the vehicle.

Liniger honked the horn of his vehicle, which caused the bear to run away. 

Investigators believe Huber at this point saw an opportunity to make a break for the vehicle Liniger was in, but she never made it.

The bear attacked her, dragging her into the nearby woods and Liniger ran to the house to get his gun. He fired several shots at the bear before running back inside for more ammunition. He fired more shots at the bear, eventually killing it.

Liniger said he doesn't feel responsible for Huber's death, but he said it's overwhelming to learn he fired the shot that killed her. 

"It was almost already too much what happened there, what I saw, what I heard," he said. "And now I have to somehow get over that fact, too, that a bullet killed her." 

Macdonald said Liniger did the right thing.

"Let's be clear. The attack wasn't going to stop. Had that bear not been killed, he would have continued the attack and he likely would have killed [Huber]," she said. "It wasn't going to stop unless that bear was dead. There was no other option."

Victim played dead

The report says Huber played dead during the attack. But they said that was the wrong approach for a predatory bear.

"A predatory attack requires the victim to fight back against the bear," the report said.

Liniger said that as someone who ran a small tourism business he would normally have known not to play dead in that situation, but in the moment he forgot and told Huber to lie down.

"I was panicking," he said. "It was a wild, mean grizzly laying on top of Claudia's back and she was looking at me with her big eyes." He said he was screaming and yelling while she was in shock. 

Liniger drove Huber to the Teslin health centre, about 50 kilometres away, where she was pronounced dead.

The finding contradicts initial accounts by investigators that suggested Huber was killed by the bear.

Wednesday's report says the extent of Huber's injuries and the condition of her clothing initially showed no signs of a gunshot wound, but the autopsy later revealed she had been shot.

Investigators returned to the scene and found bullet fragments and damage to a tree branch that indicated the bullet passed through the branch. Based on the location of the tree and Huber's body, investigators concluded that was how she died.

2 recommendations

In her report, Macdonald, the chief coroner, said there should be more public education about what to do in response to different kinds of bear attacks. "There appears to be ongoing misinformation in the public, despite ongoing efforts to get this message out," she wrote.

Yukon chief coroner Kirsten MacDonald says there should be more public education about what to do during bear attacks. (CBC)
Macdonald also urged more information for people in remote areas about the risks of leaving food and other things that attract animals around their property.

Huber and Liniger lived at a remote spot off the South Canol Highway where they ran an outfitting business. The coroner's report stresses that "the property was well-kept and properly bear-proofed with no food or garbage around as attractants."

Liniger hopes people will become more aware of how to respond to different kinds of bear attacks.

"It's important to have this education and this case might show to people when this happens, in a tenth of a second you remember this case and you remember what you learned in school, what they told you."

An older bear

A necropsy performed shortly after the incident found that the bear was 38 years old and in "poor" condition, but wasn't starving because it still had fat reserves. 

"I am not mad at the bear," Liniger told the CBC last October.

"Claudia and I, we knew where we lived: The wilderness, beautiful Yukon. And things are happening out there, it's important that people know that."

On Wednesday, Liniger said the events of that day will always be with him. 

"Claudia, she'll be always with me, she is everywhere, she's in the northern lights or the ravens or anywhere," he said.