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911 call: 'I got attacked by a mountain lion. My friend did too'

The cougar who killed SJ Brooks while they were mountain biking over the weekend.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
The cougar that killed SJ Brooks while they were mountain biking over the weekend.

Isaac Sederbaum, badly bloodied, finally connected with 911 on the fourth call.

“I got attacked by a mountain lion,” he said. He was breathless. “My friend did too.”

Where are you? the dispatcher asked.

“I don’t know where I am,” Sederbaum said. “I’m trying to come down the mountain.”

It was 10:45 a.m. on Saturday. Sederbaum, nicknamed Izzy, had gone mountain biking with his friend SJ Brooks on logging roads near North Bend, about an hour east of Seattle.

Sederbaum, 31, had lived in Seattle for years. Brooks moved to Seattle less than a year ago and was launching a chapter of “Friends on Bikes,” a bike club for women of color and trans and gender non-conforming people of color. Social media photos show Brooks as broad-shouldered and smiling big.

The two had biked down a path when a young cougar attacked. They fought back, shouting and holding up their bikes. The cat retreated.

And then it returned, attacking Sederbaum. At one point, his head was in the cat’s mouth. But then the cat left Sederbaum alone.

He sped off on his bike to call 911. He didn’t know that the cat had chased and mauled Brooks. This would be the first fatal cougar attack in Washington in 94 years.

Deeply heartbroken for the loss of SJ Brooks. No words can describe how much they will be missed in FOB, Seattle and the community at large. They were a positive light who worked tirelessly to create change. We’ve suffered a great loss. Please keep their family and loved ones in your thoughts. As well for Izzy who is still recovering. Keep your loved ones close, life is precious. A post shared by Ⓕⓡⓘⓔⓝⓓⓢ ⓞⓝ ⓑⓘⓚⓔⓢ (@friends.on.bikes) on May 21, 2018 at 10:53am PDT

Sederbaum rode his bike two miles to a road for cell service.

As he spoke with the 911 dispatcher, a car drove by. He flagged it down and handed his phone to a woman in the car. “Can you talk to 911?” he asked.

“You gotta get somebody out here,” the woman told the dispatcher. She tried to provide details about their location, but was having trouble figuring out where they were.

In the background, Sederbaum could be heard panicking.  

The woman turned away from the phone and said to him, without emotion, “You’re not going to die.”

She turned back to the phone. “Can you send someone out?” she asked.

Help was on the way, the dispatcher said, but the responding agencies needed more precise directions. The dispatcher said a cell phone locator found a hit on North Fork Road Southeast.

“Is that the road you’re on?” the dispatcher asked.

And then, no response. The call had dropped.

Rescuers arrived not long after; it took them about half an hour to find Brooks, who had been dragged into what appeared to be the cougar’s den.

Using dogs, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife agents tracked down the cougar hours later and shot it. The animal was taken to Washington State University to check for brain abnormalities and for a DNA test to make sure the right cat was shot.

Sederbaum was taken to Harborview for treatment. He was released Tuesday.

King County sheriff’s Sgt. Ryan Abbott said Sederbaum and Brooks “did everything they were supposed to do.”

But, Abbott said, “Something was wrong with this cougar.”

It didn’t make sense. Cougars – also known as pumas, panthers and mountain lions – are notoriously reclusive. This one was not. And 3-year-old male pumas are usually about 140 to 180 pounds. This one was about 100 pounds.

Chris Morgan, a wildlife specialist, discussed the incident on KUOW.

"Ultimately, escaping from a cougar that's in pursuit-mode by running is not going to work,” Morgan said, referring to the possibility that Brooks had run after the cat backed off the first time. “Fighting back — and, I mean, these gentlemen did that. It sounds like they really sort of tried to fight this cougar off and were very aggressive.

“They were doing all the right things by the sound of things. But yes, you should never run. It triggers a different response in a cougar. It's just their natural instinct to chase something down. Anyone who owns a house cat sees that behavior daily."

Cougar sightings are rare in Washington state. Morgan, an avid outdoorsman, has seen the wildcat once, and it was a blur.

"These cats are very predisposed to secrecy and being elusive,” he said. “It's their hunting technique; they rely upon that elusive ability to hunt and to kill deer and elk and other small mammals.

“All of it involves stealth. They're very secretive, very illusive and highly paranoid about humans,” Morgan continued. “They know humans are not good news for them."