But if the 11-year-old's parents had known that less than 48 hours earlier, in the same location, a 300-pound black bear had sliced open a similar tent and swiped at its occupants, the family never would have stayed at the American Fork Canyon campground that later became the site of Sam's gruesome death.
Eldon Ives, Sam's grandfather and family spokesman, said at a media gathering Tuesday that U.S. Forest Service officials should have closed the primitive camping area where the bear had previously bothered other campers. If there had been some kind of warning, then maybe Sam would still be alive and the family would not be enduring this "surreal nightmare," Ives said as he held back tears and shook with emotion.
"It's hard for us to go around placing blame on people, but we do feel that the campgrounds should have been closed down and that there should have been a warning to campers that there had been problems with a bear in that same area," Ives said. "If there's anything positive that can come out of this, we hope that the Forest Service will do a better job at protecting campers in the future."
Sam was sleeping just feet away from his mother, Rebecca Ives, and stepfather, Tim Mulvey, when a black bear ripped open the family's tent and dragged the Pleasant Grove boy away around 10:30 p.m. Sunday. Chilling screams of "leave me alone!" woke Sam's parents. But because they did not hear the bear, the family assumed the boy had been abducted by a human.
It wasn't until around 1:30 a.m. that police officials arrived and found that Sam had been killed by the bear. Representatives from the Division of Wildlife Resources then hunted the bear down and killed it.
That was the second time the DWR had pursued the bear in two days. On Saturday, the division chased the bear for more than five hours after campers said they had been attacked during the night. No one was injured in that encounter with the bear.
The fact that the DWR was so heavily pursuing the bear makes it strange that the animal returned to the original camp site and attacked so quickly. The DWR didn't expect any campers to be in the area.
A biologist for the DWR had been stationed in the site until 5 p.m. Sunday during the first bear pursuit, and there were plans to return to the site at first light Monday morning to set a trap for the bear and post signs, said Scott Root, Division of Wildlife Resources conservation outreach manager.
Unbeknownst to the DWR, the family came to camp after 5 p.m., after the biologist who could have warned the family had already left, Root said.
"Four hours from the time we left, the bear returned and caused a fatality," Root said. "We just chased the bear away and we knew it was out there a long way....The odds of this bear being run as far away as it was and turning around and running right back to this campsite was phenomenal."
Root called the incident a "freak accident that we all feel terrible about," and said the division has shed tears over the family's loss.
According to John Logan, acting district ranger for the Pleasant Grove ranger district in the Uinta National Forest, the Forest Service followed its protocol exactly in responding to the situation by working with the DWR, but Logan wasn't informed of either bear attack until Monday morning after Sam's death.
As the acting district ranger, Logan has the authority to post warnings in addition to the standard, bright orange bear country notices that hang from kiosks and trailheads in the forest. Since Logan wasn't informed until after the attack occurred, it was too late to call for more signs. But preliminary information of the first bear encounter was so minimal, signs wouldn't have been posted anyway, Logan said.
Although the DWR had information that justified killing the bear after the first encounter, the Forest Service, at first, mistakenly thought the incident had just been a "brush-by," Logan said.
"Certainly, if the facts had been known to the extent that they're known today, we would have signed the area and had some kind of warning there that this site has been known to be visited by bears, but every site has probably been known to be visited by bears at some time or another," Logan said.
Logan said the DWR and Forest Service response to the first attack would normally have been sufficient, and he does not expect the Forest Service will change its protocol for future incidents.
"To say we're going to change protocol or do things differently, I don't think we would do things differently," Logan said. "We would evaluate (each situation) based on the data we have and take the appropriate action to protect the public that is out there."
Ives said his grandson loved adventure and camping with his family. The sixth-grader had been in the Cub Scouts program and was just starting to participate in the Boy Scouts of America.
"We were looking forward to see what this special young man would be when he grew up," Ives said. "What happened to him was so far beyond anything that could have been expected....It's difficult to comprehend and come to terms with."
A private funeral for Sam has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at the Olpin Family Mortuary, 494 S. 300 East in Pleasant Grove. Family and friends of the family are invited to attend.
A trust fund has been established in Sam's name at the Wells Fargo Bank. The family says it will use any donations it receives for funeral services, counseling and to help the family.
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