Disbelief lingers over sudden loss of hiker in shooting

OSO — Driving through this small town, Pamela Almli’s brother still believes he sees her driving past.

Her sister still picks up the phone to call her.

Gail Blacker and Jeff Smith still struggle to understand that Almli isn’t going to come by and invite them on one more walk in the woods.

“I can’t believe she’s gone. I can’t believe she’s dead,” Blacker, 57, said.

Almli, 54, was fatally shot Aug. 2 while hiking with a friend on Sauk Mountain in Skagit County. A 14-year-old hunter apparently mistook Almli for a bear. Prosecutors say he ended the Oso woman’s life with a single shot.

Almli loved being in the outdoors, her sister said.

When she met people, she’d invite them to go on a hike.

“She just liked sharing it with people,” Blacker said.

If the giant outdoor recreation retailer REI sold it, Almli owned it.

The grandmother biked, hiked, camped, kayaked and in the winter went snowshoeing and skiing.

She enjoyed camping so much, she often would spend the night in a sleeping bag on her living room floor. Sometimes, Almli would make a campfire in her back yard.

After a car accident a couple of years ago, Almli renewed her excitement about being with the people she loved and taking in the outdoors, her sister said.

“She had this sense of urgency of enjoying life the most she could,” Blacker said.

Almli carefully prepared before setting out on any adventure. She started with the 10 essentials and added extra gear to be ready for whatever she encountered. She carried a whistle and bear spray. She logged the license plate numbers of other cars at the trail head, something she did because she worried about theft.

Almli’s caution adds to the tragedy that she died doing what she loved, said her brother, Smith, 56.

According to court documents, Almli and her hiking partner were about a quarter mile from the trail head when Almli paused to take off a fleece jacket.

Her hiking partner, a longtime friend, heard a blast and saw her friend slump to the ground, Blacker said.

“She was gone just like that,” Almli’s sister said.

The Concrete boy accused in Almli’s death is charged in Skagit County Superior Court with first-degree manslaughter. On Sept. 3, the teenager pleaded not guilty.

Skagit County Prosecutor Rich Weyrich said the teen failed to follow guidelines in the state’s hunting safety manual, including being sure of a target and what lies beyond. Foggy weather conditions obscured the hunter’s view. Almli was dressed in a light-colored blue coat when she was shot, Weyrich said.

Hunting safety guidelines say a target should be identified with binoculars. Instead, the boy is accused of using his rifle scope to identify his target, according to court papers.

“It’s a bear, it’s a bear,” the boy told his older brother, 16, who was with him that morning, the court papers said. “I’ve got my cross hairs on it.”

Weyrich said it appears the killing wasn’t intentional, but shooting without being certain of the target was reckless, and legal grounds for manslaughter.

Almli’s brother is still struggling to grasp what happened.

“How it could be an accident, I don’t understand,” Smith said. “You don’t just hike up a hiking trail and sit at the top of it and wait for something to shoot.”

After arriving at Sauk Mountain and seeing bad weather, the teenage brothers decided to hike instead of hunt. They brought their weapons with them just in case they encountered an animal, the court documents said.

As they hiked back toward their grandfather, who was waiting in a truck at the trail head, the boys saw movement about 100 yards below. They both believed the movement was an animal. The younger boy fired, the documents said.

Almi’s siblings now hope Washington law is changed so juveniles are only allowed to hunt with adult supervision.

A fund has been established to raise money for an appropriate memorial marker for Almli at Sauk Mountain.

The slain woman’s family looks for her in the woods.

Blacker was hiking recently with her husband on Sourdough Mountain in Whatcom county.

As she rounded a corner, Blacker saw a bear’s muzzle and it’s big round head.

She wasn’t scared.

“I was more just in wonder,” she said.

Blacker said looked at the bear and wondered how somebody could have confused the wild animal with her sister.

Reporter Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437 or jholtz@heraldnet.com

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