At the beginning of the Cookseys’ hike in Douthat State Park, earlier this month, the family joked about using a warning signal if they spotted a bear. But there wasn’t time for a warning when, an hour into the outing, a 150-pound female black bear charged Laurie Cooksey, 52, and her son Ellis, 19, as they rounded a bend ahead of Laurie’s other children, Hannah, 16, and Blake, 22, as People reports.
Unable to attempt scaring off the animal, the pair ran. “If we were on flat ground, the bear would have had the upper hand,” Ellis said, “so we flung ourselves down the mountain. I thought we were going to die.”
The bear soon caught up with them and bit Laurie behind the knee. At that point, she had no choice but to kick and punch the animal. “I didn’t have a plan when it bit me,” she said. “It was adrenaline.”
The force of the kick thrust the bear backward, giving Laurie and Ellis another chance to run and warn the others farther down the trail. At first, the other children thought their mom’s cries for help were in jest. But as soon as Blake saw the blood and the bear, he knew what to do thanks to his affinity for survival television shows. He started yelling, jumping, and throwing sticks to frighten and confuse the bear. The strategy worked, and the sow became disinterested in the family and wandered off.
The Cookseys then raced back the four miles to the park entrance. From there, Laurie was taken to a nearby hospital for rabies and tetanus shots. Fortunately, her injuries were minor, requiring only 28 stitches.
In Virginia, black bear attacks aren’t common, according to Jaime Sajecki, of the Virginia Department of Games and Inland Fisheries. Sajecki notes, “We always tell people to never turn your back and run—talk in a loud voice, look big, and stay together in a group. Back away slowly.”
Laurie says this was her first camping trip, and it will definitely be her last.
Park officials note that the bear was killed Sunday morning and is no longer a threat to the public.