By Kari Bray and Mark Mulligan Herald Writers
LAKE STEVENS — The search for a river otter that attacked an 8-year-old boy and his grandmother continued Friday afternoon, a day after they were taken to the hospital with serious injuries.
The two were attacked Thursday morning while playing at the Pilchuck River near Lake Connor Park in Lake Stevens. It wasn’t the first otter attack on the Pilchuck this summer.
The injured boy, Bryce Moser, was in stable condition Friday evening at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The boy’s grandmother has undergone at least four surgeries, said Dean Springer, her brother-in-law. One of her eyes was seriously injured in the attack.
Springer’s daughter witnessed the attack. He got a frantic phone call from her Thursday morning. By the time he arrived at the river, his sister-in-law was crouched on the ground with gauze over her eye.
His daughter told Springer that the boy was sitting on a rope swing with his legs dangling in the river when the otter lunged up, grabbed him and pulled him into the water.
That’s when Roxane Leilani Grove rushed into the river to pull the otter off her grandson, and the animal began attacking her. It took three people to fend off the otter. They beat at it with everything they could find, including sticks and an old umbrella, Springer said.
“People don’t realize it was a vicious, vicious attack and it was unprovoked,” he said.
His family has been swimming in the river for years and would not have been in the water if they’d realized the otter was nearby, he said.
Springer’s seen a lot in his life, but never anything like his sister-in-law’s injuries after the attack.
“In that short a time, I can’t believe how much it tore her up,” he said.
Capt. Alan Myers with the state Department of Fish &Wildlife said trappers were working to catch the otter Thursday afternoon and Friday, but hadn’t spotted the animal.
“We’re still cautioning people to stay away from the park,” he said.
Myers said otter attacks are rare but not unheard of.
Sally Kuhlman, 34, lives near the river where the attack occurred. She said it’s not the first time this summer that an otter has gone after a human.
She was floating the river with friends on July 13 when they noticed an otter bob up from the water. They didn’t approach it, but watched from a distance, she said.
“He was swimming around and stuck his head out,” she said. “We thought he was kind of cute until he literally lunged.”
Radek Bazant, one of the three other people on the river with Kuhlman, took the brunt of the attack. The otter bit his leg in multiple places.
“I’m just finally healing from it,” he said Friday.
The otter popped the innertube he was floating on and left several gouges in his leg. After getting out of the river, Bazant went to the Everett Clinic in Lake Stevens for antibiotics and a tetanus shot.
“I’ve been to that river since I was 4 years old, and I’ve never seen a river otter there before,” he said. “I’m concerned for the kids. There are so many kids who swim in that river.”
The otter also went after Kuhlman’s foot, but she managed to get out of the water and avoid the animal’s sharp teeth.
“I’ve floated the river all my life and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Kuhlman said.
The otter looked like it outweighed her 30-pound cat, she said. It had brown-gray fur and hissed at the group, baring its teeth.
“He stood up and he had some serious arms and legs and some big old teeth,” she said.
She didn’t see any other otters or otter pups nearby.
Kulhman said she hopes the boy and his grandmother are OK after their encounter with the otter, which she suspects is the same animal that attacked Bazant.
“I just don’t want any more people getting hurt,” Bazant said.
Sgt. Jennifer Maurstad said trappers hope to catch the otter soon. She was out on the Russell Road bridge over the Pilchuck River Friday afternoon, surveying the area with specialists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Office. She said they were monitoring the area and planned to set traps at key locations.
Though otters are not typically thought of as dangerous creatures, any wild animal can be unpredictable and aggressive, said Ruth Milner, a wildlife biologist who works in Snohomish and Island counties. She advises people never to approach a wild animal and to back away slowly if they find themselves unintentionally close to one, whether it’s in water or on land.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439, firstname.lastname@example.org