A 3-year-old boy is recovering at home after a mountain lion grabbed him by the neck in an attack Monday afternoon at a wilderness park in Orange County’s Lake Forest.
Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park — a destination for hikers, bicyclists and equestrian enthusiasts and the site of a 2004 mountain lion attack that left one dead and one injured — remains closed indefinitely following the attack.
According to various official accounts, a mountain lion grabbed the boy by the neck about 4:10 p.m. Monday and began to drag him along the ground. The child had been in the park with two adults and three other children, and was about 10 feet in front of the others when the big cat singled him out, according to Capt. Patrick Foy of the California Fish and Wildlife law enforcement division.
The boy’s father started shouting and charged toward the lion. The lion dropped the child and took a defensive stance. The father then took off his backpack and threw it at the lion, who picked up the bag and ran off. A park visitor later photographed a mountain lion up a tree, holding a backpack in its powerful jaws.
Foy said that the family was about one mile from the parking lot. By the time they arrived, paramedics were already on scene.
Within an hour of the attack, deputies received authorization from the Fish and Wildlife Department to kill the lion, said Carrie Braun of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. About 5:20 p.m., a deputy shot and killed a lion near where the child was attacked. Authorities are confident it was the same cat that attacked the child because it was in a tree guarding the backpack the boy’s father had thrown at it.
Following the attack, the park was immediately evacuated via loudspeaker from a Sheriff’s Department helicopter.
The boy suffered puncture wounds around his neck and scrapes from being dragged. He was taken to Mission Hospital and was reported in stable condition before his release.
Landon Wright, 46, has biked or hiked in the park nearly every day for the last three years. On Monday, while he was riding uphill, a mother ran down while carrying a young boy.
“There’s a mountain lion up there that just attacked my kid,” she cried.
The boy’s father and three other children ran past him.
Wright continued on, curious what was ahead.
“Fifteen feet in the air was a mountain lion with a backpack in its mouth,” he said.
Wright snapped photos and watched the big cat, which he didn’t think posed an immediate threat, as it teetered on a tree limb. Wright flagged a couple walking along the path, telling them what he’d learned. The pair, Orange County park volunteers, contacted the authorities, and the group remained until officials arrived and sent the group away.
As they walked off, they heard a gunshot.
Wright has a 3-year-old boy who also spends frequent time in the park, looking at bugs and playing in nature. The attack has given him pause.
“I’ve known there’s mountain lions there, but I’ve never heard of one going after a child surrounded by five other humans.”
The attack occurred about an hour before sunset. Mountain lions are known to hunt from dusk to dawn. Wright referred to the timing as “predator hour” and said his major takeaway from the attack is to be cautious during that time, especially when children are present.
Though mountain lion attacks are not common, they can be deadly.
In January 2004, a mountain lion killed avid biker Mark Reynolds, 35, in Whiting Ranch. Reynolds, who was alone at the time of the attack, was apparently crouched over his bike when the cat approached. Experts at the time said a mountain lion will sometimes interpret a crouching animal as a sign of weakness.
The same cat attacked another biker who had stumbled on Reynolds’ body. The woman was pried away from the cat by a friend and other bikers, and the cat was later killed.
At the time, Reynolds was the first person in California killed by a mountain lion in a decade.
Foy said that following the attack, deputies gathered human DNA from the lion’s claws and teeth, and animal DNA from the boy. Officials drove the lion’s remains up to Sacramento, where it is being processed at a wildlife forensics laboratory.
City News Service and Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.