When friends describe Adelia Trujillo, they invariably mention the way she carried herself.
She stood straight-backed--at 93 still not using a cane, although it was getting tougher for her to walk.
She was spunky and strong-willed and quietly stubborn. She insisted on staying in the small adobe house with the tin pitched roof where she reared her children and showed her grandchildren the traditional ways.
She cooked her beans and tamales on a wood stove, and she began each day with prayer. Her faith sustained her.
“She knew she wasn’t alone,” said her grandson, Richard Ortega.
Adelia Trujillo’s intensely private life ended in a cruelly public fashion, as she became the first New Mexican killed by a bear in a century of record-keeping.
The 250-pound, 4-year-old male broke into her house the morning of Aug. 18. Tracked by dogs, the bear was shot hours later about a half-mile away.
Such deaths are extremely rare.
In North America in the last century, black bears killed 45 people, according to Stephen Herrero, a bear expert in Canada. Trujillo’s death was the second this year, he said; a camper in northwestern Canada was fatally mauled in June.
Three-fourths of the deaths were in Canada, although it’s home to only about half of North America’s black bears, said Herrero, professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Calgary in Alberta.
“The odds of being killed by a black bear in an attack can’t be anything but extremely slim, because each year there are millions and millions of interactions between people and bears,” said the researcher, author of “Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance.”
Statistics, however, are scant comfort for Trujillo’s neighbors and friends. They were shocked and sickened by her death--and some are frightened.
“I’m scared at night,” said Tita Martinez, 73, a widow who played bingo with Trujillo at the senior citizens’ center in Mora, a couple of miles away from the victim’s home in Cleveland. “I just pray to God to help me.”
Residents of Mora and other little villages at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains are used to seeing bears.
The animals lumber down from the hillsides every summer to raid the apples and plums and chokecherries that dot the meadows and line the roads in this lush, 7,000-foot-high river valley.
But this year, a combination of dry conditions and a late, killer frost deprived bears of much of their usual food--berries, grasses and other young vegetation--in the mountains. And they’re not finding much in Mora’s orchards.
“Everything froze. There’s absolutely no fruit,” said David Rael, owner of El Nicho en Mora, a cafe on the main street where talk of bears dominates the morning-coffee conversation.
“I lost six calves in a week and a half, and there could be more,” said rancher John Abeyta, whose 180 head of cattle spend the summer in high mountain pastures. “We won’t know until the herd comes down what our losses were.”
Hungry bears in New Mexico this summer have attacked wildlife and farm animals, dragged a camper from his sleeping bag, busted through doors and windows and torn apart kitchens.
“My kids play outside, and it’s really scary--even in the daytime,” said Beatrice Vigil, who lives in Monte Aplanado, about four miles from Mora. “We don’t trust the bears now, that’s for sure.”
The state Department of Fish and Game office some 80 miles to the northwest in Raton, near the Colorado line, has been logging about 100 bear complaints a day--four times as many as in the previous worst year, according to Joanna Lackey, the agency’s chief of operations in the northeastern quarter of the state.
A bumper crop in back-yard apricot, peach and plum trees in Raton has attracted many bears--including one that tried to break through a window into Lackey’s office while Fish and Game officers were trying to chase it off the grounds, and another that tried to enter her house.
Lackey said investigators will never know what prompted the bear to break into Adelia Trujillo’s home, in an area where houses are scattered along a two-lane main road with open fields behind them, leading to the hills.
Nothing was cooking and no food was sitting out when the bear entered, probably at or before daybreak, she said.
The bear was healthy, and had been eating grasses and other natural foods--not food for humans, according to the Game and Fish Department.
The attack “was probably just a case of one startling the other, and the bear just reacted instinctively,” Lackey speculated.
Herrero, the bear expert, said most attacks on humans are inflicted by normal, healthy bears “doing what the odd, unusual bear does.”
“It is a very unusual behavior, but one we’ve seen before,” he said.
The woman’s body was discovered by her son, who lived next door but had heard nothing unusual, police said.
The body was in the kitchen, which was adjacent to her bedroom, according to a Mora County Sheriff’s Department report. The bear apparently had been on the porch, broke a pane of glass in a door that led to the kitchen, then entered the house, said Sheriff John Sanchez.
Trujillo heated her home with wood and grew and canned some of her own food.
“She had the means to get updated things and she didn’t want it. She wanted to stay as simple as possible,” said Ortega, her grandson.
Trujillo, who was widowed in 1989, worked for 15 years in the local elementary schools’ “foster grandparent” program, helping teachers in the classroom. The kids called her “Grandma.”
She enjoyed stopping after Mass at El Nicho en Mora, where she and friends sat in the orange-and-turquoise booth by the front window, and she frequented the Mora Senior Citizens Center--she was there two days before her death--where she was remembered as pleasant, reserved and deeply religious.
“She was always saying, ‘May God bless you, may God take care of you,’ ” said the center’s manager, Lorraine Vigil.
Trujillo often was joined at the center by Ermelina Romero, the sister of her late husband Alfredo. Sitting at the kitchen table of her home in Mora, where she spends hours playing solitaire and doing word puzzles, the 98-year-old Romero buried her face in her hands.
“When I awake at night, I just see her,” Romero said.