When mama bear attacked, Sacramento native played dead

When Jessica Gamboa, a Sacramento native, came across a bear cub while running behind her husband on a trail in Alaska, her immediate thought was: “Where is the mama bear?”

Turns out, right behind her.

“I put my back maybe towards her like, ‘Really I’m sorry,’” Gamboa said. But it was too late.

Almost instantly, the huge mother brown bear was biting and slashing at her -- picking her up by the thigh.


Then, almost as quickly as it started, it was over.

“I was just laying there telling myself, ‘This is it. I’m going to die,’” Gamboa said in an interview with Fox 40 in Sacramento.

Her body broken and bloodied, Gamboa heeded the advice she’d heard all her life: When attacked by a bear, play dead.

“I played dead the best I could, didn’t make any noise or scream,” she said.

Experts say her reaction likely saved her life. After the bear turned and left, Gamboa was able to stumble to her feet and walk farther down the trail on the Joint Base Elmendorf in Richardson, where she was spotted by a sergeant passing in his truck.

“There was so much blood, I didn’t know where to grab her,” said Sgt. Collin Gillikin, a combat medic with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

Gamboa, who recently transferred to the base with her husband, is recovering from a neck fracture and blood clot in a vein leading to her brain.

The mauling also left Gamboa with lacerations to her neck, arms and legs and a torn ear, CBS Sacramento reported.


The attack occurred about 20 minutes into Gamboa’s run after she had become separated from her husband, Jacob, on the sprawling base.

Wildlife officers in California said Gamboa’s instinct to play dead was the right thing to do with the species she faced in Alaska. But in her home state, they recommend “a completely different response,” Fox 40 reported. If attacked by a California bear, people should fight back aggressively since they’re half the size and have much less aggressive temperaments than brown bears in Alaska.

Whatever kind of animal she may run into in the future, Gamboa told the station she has a new mantra for enjoying her time outdoors: “Never underestimate the power of nature.”