By Matt Youngfrau
WOODRIDGE August 23, 2002 In the summertime, the population of Sullivan County dramatically increases, as people come to the Catskills to enjoy the country and the wonders of nature.
But on Monday, nature turned deadly.
Around 2 p.m., a black bear wandered through the Machne Ohel Fayge Colony (formerly the Wood Haven Bungalow Colony) in Woodridge. Estimated to be two years old, 150 pounds, and five feet tall (standing), the bear was apparently foraging for food and snatched five-month-old Esther Schwimmer from her stroller.
Residents of the colony chased after the bear until it dropped the baby. The girl was taken to Ellenville Hospital and declared dead around 3 p.m. Fallsburg police were called to the scene, and Officer David Decker subsequently shot and killed the bear with his .40-caliber pistol.
Since the attack, shock, fear, and sadness has gripped everyone in the area and throughout the nation. National new stations and papers have carried the story, as this is the first death by a wild bear attack in New York State this century. Nationwide, it is the 15th death from a bear in 100 years.
For the most part, bears are very skittish of human beings, say officials. Making a great deal of noise, like banging two pots together, will usually chase them away. It is also suggested that garbage be kept in containers, sealed and clean so no aroma can be noticed.
It is believed that, due to the excessive heat and lack of rain, food has been scarce for the animals. In this particular case, a necropsy found garbage in the bear's stomach, but tests for rabies and the West Nile virus came back negative.
Fallsburg Police and other area law enforcement agencies have gotten more calls on bear sightings since the incident. Many summer residents are leaving early, some not returning from the Brooklyn funeral of little Esther Schwimmer.