There was a moment when Josh Barber thought the bear was going to kill him. But just a moment. Then, Barber fought back.
The 21-year-old, who has been living at campsites north of the Durango Tech Center, shared his story of the attack with the Herald on Tuesday from his bed at Mercy Regional Medical Center. He contacted the Herald after feeling he’d been misrepresented and his side of the story hadn’t been told in Tuesday’s newspaper.
He was adamant that photos taken at his abandoned campsite showed trash that had not been there when he bolted from the bear Sunday not long after dark. He said there was a small amount of trash in the area, but “we clean up after ourselves.” He assumes that someone piled up much of the trash after the incident.
Barber – wearing a neck brace, and with a large swath of hair missing where doctors stapled together a huge head wound – said he was hanging out in his tent in an area of multiple campsites just west of downtown Durango, reading a book, when the bear attacked.
The bear smacked the side of the tent, stuck its paw through mosquito netting, then began to enter the tent.
“He didn’t pull me out of the tent,” Barber said. “I hopped out of my tent, quicker than anything I’ve ever unzipped in my life. I grabbed my club, I grabbed my sunflower seeds. I opened the bag and threw them at his face inside the tent.
Barber, still healing from a broken toe, sprinted a couple of hundred yards down toward a ravine in the piñon- and juniper-covered area. He hoped to follow the ravine back up to where friends were camped nearby. Those friends, including Matt O’Brien, Marcus Shirley and Bridgett Watson, gave their accounts Monday to the Herald.
He thought he was home free at that point, but the bear headed him off and attacked again. It tackled him and bit him.
“My first thought was I was going to die,” he said, doing the interview while sitting up in his hospital bed.
But he just as quickly decided he wasn’t going to die. He got away and got another 50 yards to the bottom of the ravine before the bear caught him again.
“He tackled me twice,” Barber said.
“(O’Brien) got in the bear’s face. He saved my life,” Barber said. “They both did.”
His friends and the dogs kept the bear at bay, and O’Brien and Shirley half-carried Barber away from the area and to the end of Tech Center Drive, where law enforcement officers had gathered. (Watson had called 911 with her cellphone.)
At 12:24 a.m. Monday, police and medical personnel were dispatched to the area again after another bear attack. Robin R. Derendy, 33, was camping farther up from Barber, according to the report.
The bear ran off, but wildlife officers later were able to track it down with dogs. The bear went up a tree, and wildlife officers shot and killed it.
A DNA analysis is being done to see if this is the same bear that attacked a camper in the same area May 23, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Barber was taken to Mercy, where he was treated for several injuries. The most serious was in his neck, where the bear had bitten him and cracked three vertebra. He had a large scalp wound and a damaged artery, stitches in several places in his chest and other abrasions and scratch marks over his chest and arms.
Before he broke his toe, he’d been in a camp farther up on the mountain. He’d been at his recent camp for about two weeks and said he’s been working hard to clean the mess made by a previous resident. Some of it he was sifting through first to see if there were usable items.
The surrounding area has been used for decades as a homeless camp, and a Parks and Wildlife news release Monday said the area “contains a considerable amount of trash and debris that are attractants for bears.” Barber still was seething Tuesday from the way his camp had been portrayed in the Herald story.
“I live in a camp graveyard,” Barber said. “I couldn’t have created all this trash myself nor would I have wanted to. ... It’s very insulting to me.”
Barber said he’d been taking large bags of trash down into town for disposal regularly. In an interview Monday, O’Brien said he’s also been taking trash away. Barber estimated there are 25 people living “on the mountain.”
“Not all of us up on the mountain are bad apples,” Barber said. “We clean up after ourselves. ... There are those of us who keep the area up there nice.”
Barber said he’s been homeless off and on since he was 14, and he has difficulties here getting an ID so he can get a job. But that’s his goal.