Cougar Attacks Mountain Bikers, Kills 1 in Washington

The riders seemed to do most everything right, but it wasn’t enough.


Isaac Sederbaum and Sonja Brooks did the right thing when they encountered a 100-pound male mountain lion in the woods near Snoqualmie, Washington, on Saturday morning. They got off their bikes, made lots of noise, and attempted to scare the big cat away. It wasn’t enough.

The mountain lion ran away, and when the pair got back on their bikes and started riding, the cat attacked Sederbaum from behind, got its jaws around his head, and started shaking. Brooks dropped their bike and started to run, and the lion let go of Sederbaum, chased them, and attacked.

“The first victim told us that the actual cougar’s mouth was around his head,” said Sgt. Ryan Abbott, spokesman for the King County Sheriff’s Office. “The cougar was trying to shake the victim from side to side.”

Sederbaum fled on his bike to find a cell phone signal and call for help. As he did, he could see the cat dragging Brooks into the woods.

Help came too late. When authorities arrive, Brooks, 32, was dead. They found them in what appeared to be the cat’s den, and the animal was atop the body, said Captain Alan Myers of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Police.

A deputy shot at the cougar and the cat fled. It was eventually treed by tracking dogs and shot.

According to Seattle’s Q13 Fox affiliate, Brooks was a chapter leader for Seattle’s Friends on Bikes, which promotes diversity in cycling, focusing “primarily on women of color and trans and gender non-conforming people of color.”

Brook’s bio on Friends of Bikes says, “SJ was born in Kansas and has fond memories of crushing down the Shunga Trail as a kid. While living in Montreal, SJ started riding bikes as a means of transportation. Their first overnight bike camping trip was to Harold Parker State Forest from Boston. Now in Seattle, SJ has retired from working as a bike mechanic and is enjoying riding their bike to explore the Pacific Northwest.”

Mountain lion attacks are rare in the United States and fatalities even rarer. This is the first death in Washington State from an attack since 1924. In North America, there have only been 23 known fatal attacks in the last century.

The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife offers the following guidelines if you do encounter a mountain lion:

• Stop, pick up small children immediately, and don’t run. Running and rapid movements may trigger an attack. Remember, at close range, a cougar’s instinct is to chase.

• Face the cougar. Talk to it firmly while slowly backing away. Always leave the animal an escape route.

• Try to appear larger than the cougar. Get above it (e.g., step up onto a rock or stump). If wearing a jacket, hold it open to further increase your apparent size. If you are in a group, stand shoulder-to-shoulder to appear intimidating.

• Do not take your eyes off the cougar or turn your back. Do not crouch down or try to hide.
Never approach the cougar, especially if it is near a kill or with kittens, and never offer it food.

• If the cougar does not flee, be more assertive. If it shows signs of aggression (crouches with ears back, teeth bared, hissing, tail twitching, and hind feet pumping in preparation to jump), shout, wave your arms and throw anything you have available (water bottle, book, backpack). The idea is to convince the cougar that you are not prey, but a potential danger.

• If the cougar attacks, fight back. Be aggressive and try to stay on your feet. Cougars have been driven away by people who have fought back using anything within reach, including sticks, rocks, shovels, backpacks, and clothing—even bare hands. If you are aggressive enough, a cougar will flee, realizing it has made a mistake. Pepper spray in the cougar’s face is also effective in the extreme unlikelihood of a close encounter with a cougar.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife also keep a cougar incident tracking map:

Photo by King County Sheriff’s Office

 

Showing 23 comments
  • Patrick
    Reply

    This is awful and I’m so upset that it happened to someone who was doing such good work. Condolences to everyone..

  • Eric
    Reply

    They did everything wrong, you are not going to outrun a mountain lion and you certainly don’t leave your buddy!!

  • Rob
    Reply

    I missed where it said they were trying to “outrun a mountain lion” but I was disappointed to hear he left her. Also, the writer seemed to have a bit of trouble with the words “them” and “their” imho

    • Steve Casimiro
      Reply

      Rob—no trouble at all with those pronouns. That’s how SJ gender identified and so of course we respect that.

      • Mo from Marin
        Reply

        10 million points for this.

      • Scott
        Reply

        It is obviously important to respect the way people identify themselves. Unfortunately, in an article where readers are trying to follow a timeline and determine what happened to who, when and where, the use of words that are often used as plural pronouns to describe what happened to a single person, without any prior explanation, can lead to some confusion on the part of a significant percentage of readers. In these situations everything possible should be done avoid confusion in journalism. Confusion can cause an incorrect assessment of the situation which leads to rumors and inappropriate judgement of the people involved in this tragedy. Even though it might not seem necessary to the journalist familiar with the people and the situation, some sort of explanation of the usage of these words in the body of the article would be helpful. Only your comments after the fact cleared up the confusion.

        • Patrick
          Reply

          Language changes constantly and just because you’re not familiar with something doesn’t mean that it’s wrong or that you’re owed an explanation. They/their have been used as singular gender neutral pronouns forever: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/they. The article reads just fine.

          Also, I’m being short but not meaning to attack. I appreciate your sentiment regarding respecting people’s choices.

  • Max
    Reply

    Let me see if I have this straight…
    “Sederbaum fled on his bike to find a cell phone signal and call for help. As he did, he could see the cat dragging Brooks into the woods.”
    This is after Brooks already abandoned Sederbaum to the cat. Then once freed, Sederbaum figures “This is one for the sheriff, once I can get some cell signal. ‘Hang tight Brooks as the cat drags you away, the sheriff should be here in plenty of time to save your life.'”

  • Jon
    Reply

    Agree with what Max said! Why would you leave your friend to die? He could have pelted it with rocks, beat it with a log, ANYTHING other than let it drag his friend away.

  • The Woodsman
    Reply

    I disagree they did everything right. Brooks took off running. Cats love to chase their prey. She paid for that mistake with her life. Condolences to her family and friends.

  • MK
    Reply

    [shakes head] Some of you judgmental types need to re read what has been stated by the sheriffs office in the report and stop judging. In the first encounter they did not flee, the confronted the cat. They thought it was over, then the cat surprised them, attacking and this time making contact. It was at this point that panic ensued and things went South. How many of you commenting have ever encountered an adult mtn lion in the wild? Easy to judge sitting behind a keyboard i know, however you weren’t there and who is to say what you would, or would not have done in the same situation [/shakes head]

  • D Leak
    Reply

    I think for any of us to criticize this persons response is unfair. It is a rare person who can respond perfectly in an extremely scary situation. There is no true training for this. Not everyone can and does run into a burning building when needed.

  • jr
    Reply

    Sederbaum had already been attacked. At that point thinking rationally was gone, he was most likely in shock.

    Had any of these on-line heros been in that situation, they would have skinned the cougar alive with their bravery and toughness…..such as Max, Jon, etc.

  • Bob H
    Reply

    Pathological irrationality often occurs from / during a traumatic experience. No doubt the victim who escaped was in shock. During shock and aftershock, one’s flight / or flight is triggered and the emotional brain (amygdala) takes control. At this point, rational thought is replaced with an emotional reaction. Not everyone is trained / conditioned to respond to danger, but individual responses vary. I sincerely wish this experience had a happy ending; unfortunately it did not. The old saying / story about not judging someone until you’ve walked a mile in her/his shoes comes to mind.

  • Gary
    Reply

    Very poorly written account. I can’t really tell at all what happened from this story. “Brooks dropped their bike and started to run, and the lion let go of Sederbaum, chased them, and attacked.” What does this mean? “…dropped their (sic) bike…?” Whose bike? “… let go of Sederbaum, chased them, and attached.?” Chased who? I thought the cat had one of them…??? Very confusing report. You need an editor.

  • Greg
    Reply

    Do they always have to shoot the cougar? Does a cat who’s preyed on a person continue to do so?

  • Kat O
    Reply

    Guys, let’s be sure to be respectful of the victim and not misgender them, please.

    • Kat O
      Reply

      I suppose just to clarify, for folks unfamiliar: people who identify outside the gender binary often prefer the plural pronoun “them,” so that wasn’t a typo on the author’s part; even though SJ has a feminine-sounding name, they identified with they/them/their and not she/her/hers. So, as an act of respect, don’t use feminine pronouns when talking about them since that’s not their gender 🙂

  • mark
    Reply

    the pacific northwest is a wild place. both in regards the wildlife and the wild pronoun usage.

  • Bart Scrivener
    Reply

    What a terrible tragedy. So sad.

    All the more reason for AJ to responsibly edit this story for clarity. As edited, it leaves the reader confused and infuriated when the proper response should be empathy and sadness.

    AJ bent over backwards to be politically correct when their (sic) primary obligation should have been clarity. Why not just substitute Brooks’s name instead of the confusing plural pronoun? Especially in this sentence:

    “When authorities arrive, Brooks, 32, was dead. They found them in what appeared to be the cat’s den, and the animal was atop the body,”

    What a mishmash of confusing tenses and pronouns! “Them”— Cat and Brooks? Cat, Brooks, and Sederbaum? Authorities and cat? Egad. Much better would be this:

    When authorities arrived, Brooks, 32, was dead. The authorities found Brooks in what appeared to be the cat’s den, and the animal was atop the body,

    Even better would be to name the responding entity: Sheriff? Fish and Wildlife Police?

    Anyway, very sad.

  • Jason
    Reply

    I agree. I found the use of “their” so confusing, especially when using it in the singular and plural forms within the same story. “It” or “its” would have been easier to understand.

  • larry crawford
    Reply

    Certainly a tragedy, but also a very uncommon occurrence. I’m sure DNA results prove this cat was the right one killed. But, I have to wonder, was the cat rabid? I cannot find any followup, which, I am sure, was tested, since that would explain the unusual actions of this cougar. If anyone has info on the post-action of this please email me at crawfoto@gmail.com.

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