Coroner: Woman mauled by grizzly died from gunshot wound

Story highlights

  • Coroner: Woman mauled by bear actually died from a bullet fired by husband
  • Matthias Liniger was trying to kill the grizzly attacking Claudia Huber
  • The 375 pound bear crashed through a window in their home

(CNN)"Catastrophic."

That's how the Canadian coroner who performed Claudia Huber's autopsy described the circumstances of the Yukon woman's death -- which occurred more than a year ago -- in the autopsy report that wasn't released until Thursday.
    In October 2014, Huber was attacked by a grizzly bear in her own home and her car before being mauled by the beast in her driveway and dragged across a creek for more than 60 feet.
    But that's not how the 42-year-old died.
    "A bullet meant for the bear struck a tree branch and deflected from the anticipated path and trajectory," Yukon Chief Coroner Kirsten Macdonald said in the report. "The bullet struck Ms. Huber in the chest, causing death."
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    That fatal bullet was fired by Matthias Liniger, Huber's husband, as he attempted to save her life.
    "It was almost already too much what happened there, what I saw, what I heard," Liniger told CBC. "And now I have to somehow get over that fact, too, that a bullet killed her."
    Macdonald knew the news would only serve to further overwhelm Liniger, so she said she took the unusual step of delaying the autopsy's release to give an already grieving husband additional time to privately process a second devastating blow.

    Autopsy's harrowing details

    On October 18, 2014, Huber and Liniger were home in Whitehorse at the log cabin inn they operated called Breath of Wilderness in Johnson's Crossing, Yukon.
    After hearing their dog barking wildly at something in the yard, Liniger went outside and saw a bear approaching, so he returned inside with the dog.
    "It is believed that the bear may have viewed the dog as potential prey," the report said.
    The 375-pound beast circled the single story home, coming to a stop at a window. "When the bear put his front paws on the window glass, the window gave way and the bear came crashing into the living room."
    According to the report, the grizzly chased the dog around the room, then left the house. Huber and Liniger, meanwhile, ran outside to the driveway, where each locked themselves inside their individual cars.
    That didn't deter the bear.
    "The bear got onto the hood of the vehicle that Ms. Huber was in and repeatedly jumped on the hood," before it turned its attention to Liniger's vehicle.
    The bear seemed to spook at Liniger's repeated honking of his horns, according to the report, and started to run away. Huber took the opportunity to run to be with her husband inside his car.
    "When Ms. Huber exited the vehicle, the bear attacked her," says the report. Liniger ran inside to get his gun, but when he returned, "the bear had drug Ms. Huber approximately 20 meters across a creek and up onto the opposite bank."
    Liniger fired several rounds at the bear -- which was on top of Huber at this point -- so many that he ran out of bullets and had to return to the house to reload before he finally fired the fatal shots.
    That Huber died from a bullet aimed for her attacker was not only a tragic twist, but also an unexpected one, at least for investigators. "External body examination was difficult due to the significant amount of tissue damage," the report says. "Examination of the clothing Ms. Huber was wearing at the time of the attack did not suggest a possible gunshot wound."
    Macdonald's report said Huber played dead during the attack. "However, because the attack on Ms. Huber was predatory in nature, it unfortunately wasn't the correct response," Macdonald wrote.
    Playing dead deters only certain bears in certain situations. This week, for example, a New Jersey Boy Scout leader who unknowingly walked into a black bear's den successfully thwarted the attack by pretending to be dead. That bear likely felt threatened, officials explained, which is why it attacked the man initially, but stopped once he appeared dead.
    As part of her report issued Thursday, the coroner made a plea to the Yukon government: "More education is need to inform the public about the different types of bear encounters and the appropriate responses for each type of encounter."