Grizzly bear attacks two college wrestlers in Wyoming

When a grizzly bear attacked his Northwest College wrestling teammate Brady Lowry outside of Cody, Wyoming on Saturday, Kendell Cummings didn’t hesitate to try to free his friend from the bear’s clutches.

The bear had grabbed Lowry’s arm and shaken it until it broke. Lowry curled up in a ball and the bear continued its attack “and bit my back, my butt, my shoulder,” he said.

Cummings tried to disrupt the attack by yelling, throwing things at it and grabbing its coat to try to pull it off Lowry.

“I didn’t want to lose my friend. It was bad. There was a big old bear on top of him. I could have run and potentially lost a friend or get him off and save him,” Cummings said from his hospital bed in Billings, Montana .

In a flash, the bear turned on Cummings and relentlessly clutched his arms and head. For some reason the attack stopped, but the bear returned for another attack.

Lowry, who is from Cedar City, feared Cummings was dead. Despite his own injuries, Lowry climbed a ridge to find a cell service to call 911 for help.

“He definitely saved my life. If it wasn’t for him, if I was by myself, I wouldn’t have made it to that mountain,” Lowry said in an interview Monday.

Two other teammates on the outing to hunt for shed antlers, August Harrison of Vernal and Orrin Jackson of Kersey, Colo., eventually helped Cummings down the mountain, at times carrying him, though Cummings also walked part of the way.

Emergency dispatchers urged Harrison and Jackson to go to a safe place and wait for help, but the thought of leaving Cummings alone on the mountainside was out of the question. After coordinating a spot for a medical helicopter to land, they headed up the hill to find Cummings.

“I remember picking up the phone and I said ‘You know, that’s our brother up there. We’re not leaving,'” Jackson said as he hung up on the dispatcher.

Harrison said he “started pulling his ass up the mountain for Kendell and yelling his name. Eventually, after a while, I heard him yelling back at me and I noticed he was a little further up the mountain from me. So I ran to him and I grabbed his side and I helped him get down the mountain. He was just a bloody mess. His head was painted red all over,” he said.

Cummings wanted to sit for a second, so Harrison used the time to check the wounds on his neck and chest.

“He looked OK, like we could get him to the doctor in time. So I told him, ‘we’re going to have to get up and go,'” Harrison said.

At first, Cummings said he didn’t want to go, “so I told him I was going to carry him and throw him over my shoulder,” Harrison said.

“After a while he wanted to walk again so I sat him down and we walked some more and then Orrin carried him a bit. Then we had to hand him a barbed wire fence,” Harrison.

All told, the hike down the mountainside to the trailhead where they had parked earlier in the day was about 6 miles.

The group stayed together while they waited for Park County Search and Rescue. Cummings was flown to Billings Clinic Hospital, where he has undergone multiple surgeries and remains hospitalized.

Asked about his teammates, Cummings said: “They’re great. I know we’d all do anything for each other. It didn’t matter who was up there.”

Lowry, who largely made it off the mountainside unaided, was transported by ambulance to Cody Regional Hospital. He was later taken by ambulance to the same Billings hospital as Cummings, but was then released.

Authorities described the attacks as “a sudden, surprise encounter with a grizzly bear.” Each of the wrestlers carried bear spray, but the attacks were so sudden that no one had time to deploy them, the wrestlers said.

According to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Cummings and Lowry encountered the bear at close range in heavy cover … west of the Bobcat Houlihan Trail on the Shoshone National Forest.

“They were able to call 911 from near the scene and Park County Search and Rescue responded quickly,” the news release said.

“With the help of a hunter in the area, a local resident and other members of their party, the two men were able to reach the trail where they met search and rescue and were transported from the area,” according to the statement.

Dan Smith, Cody Region wildlife supervisor, said landowners and hunters near the attack said there may be 6 to 10 different bears moving between agricultural fields and low-lying slopes. An investigation is underway.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, grizzly bears weigh up to 700 pounds. Males are heavier than females and can weigh around 400 to 600 pounds. A large female can weigh 250 to 350 pounds in the lower 48 states, according to the federation’s website.

According to the school’s website, Lowry wrestles at 149 pounds, while Cummings competes at 141 pounds.

Northwest College wrestling coach Jim Zeigler said both young men suffered significant puncture wounds, cuts and bruises in the attack. Cummings has dozens of staples on wounds to his face and head.

After his release, Cummings will return to Evanston to recover, he said. His care team is very concerned about the possibility that he will develop infection in his many wounds, Cummings said.

Zeigler said the events were traumatic for all the wrestlers on the outing, but also for their teammates.

“I just want to continue to love them and take care of them and make sure they get over this emotionally,” he said.

The season’s practices are just beginning to prepare for the start of the wrestling season in early November.

Zeigler said his biggest concern is supporting the physical and emotional healing of his team. On Monday afternoon, a gathering of wrestlers, university officials and faculty members was held to “give them a hug” and check on their well-being.

Going forward, Zeigler said he will take his cues from how his teams respond to their training and coaching.

“You know, we’re just going to take it day by day … The most important thing right now is just loving each other,” he said.

“If something is wrong, I can always feel that we are extremely close. I mean we can finish each other’s sentences and thoughts and then I can look at them and they know what I’m thinking. We will be fine. We’re moving forward,” he said.

Saturday morning, after a practice, the four wrestlers told Zeigler they planned to go to Cody to hunt antlers. Zeigler urged them to be cautious, to wear blaze orange since hunting season is underway, and to carry bear spray.

They assured him, “We’re good, coach.”

“I trust them because I’ve been up there with them … I have to let them live,” he said, explaining that he and team members camped in the Cody area a few weeks ago.

Later in the day Saturday, while Zeigler was at home watching a football game on television, he received a phone call informing him of the attacks. He immediately left for Billings because he wanted to be there for Lowry and Cummings, knowing it would be several hours before their families could get to Billings. He was joined by other members of the wrestling team.

“I’m proud of them, just the way they love each other, the way they protected each other, the way they stuck together. I can’t imagine the horror, the horror of that. I don’t think they realized until after it was over how scary it was. They just did what they did, helped each other survive, and they lived to tell about it, and I’m proud of them,” he said.

Lowry, who attended Canyon View High School in Cedar City, won two Utah state championships during high school.

He was the first Falcons wrestler to win a state title for the school and the first to wrestle in college, according to the Cedar City Spectrum.

“I’m really excited to continue my wrestling career in college,” Harrison said.

Harrison also won a Utah state title while competing for Uintah High School in Vernal.

Northwest College, a two-year college serving about 900 students, is located 70 miles east of Yellowstone National Park in Powell, Wyoming.

Contributions to support the wrestlers and their families with medical and other related expenses are accepted through the Northwest College Foundation.

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