(SHERWOOD, Ore.) — An Oregon wild cat sanctuary’s head keeper was killed at the facility after being mauled by two cougars, a state medical examiner said Monday.
Renee Radziwon-Chapman, 36, the head keeper at WildCat Haven Sanctuary in Sherwood, Ore., was found dead in the cats’ cage on Saturday evening, according to sanctuary officials.
Radziwon-Chapman, who worked at the sanctuary for eight years and was the mother of a 5-month-old daughter, died from multiple bite injuries, with the most severe wounds around her head and neck, Dr. Christopher Young, a forensic pathologist for the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office, told ABC News Monday.
First responders arrived at the WildCat Haven Sanctuary after 7 p.m. Saturday, but the dark, remote area proved inaccessible even for emergency vehicles, Sgt. Robert Wurpes of the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office told ABC News on Sunday.
Rescuers were hesitant to enter the sanctuary on foot, saying it was “risky” because they did not know and could not see where the other cats might be, Wurpes said. By the time they made it to the caretaker, she had died.
Authorities said they believe Radziwon-Chapman was not only alone at the sanctuary, but was also alone in the animals’ enclosure at the time of the attack, which is against safety recommendations, facility officials said in a statement.
“The sanctuary’s handbook specifies that ‘two qualified staff members shall work together during the lock out of dangerous animals. Once the animals are locked out, one staff member can safely enter the enclosure to clean or make repairs,'” the statement said.
The sanctuary’s executive director, Cheryl Tuller, said in a statement that “at no time was any cat outside its primary containment enclosure,” which are surrounded by 14-foot tall walls of six-gauge wire.
“We are devastated by this loss. Not only was she one of our most dedicated staff members, we thought of her as family,” Tuller said.
WildCat Haven Sanctuary is a “last hope” facility for more than 60 captive-born wildcats and hybrids that have been neglected, abandoned and abused, according to its website. The facility is not open to the public but provides on-site tours for donors.
Radziwon-Chapman’s family said in a statement that the “devoted” wife and mother’s “drive to help all animals made an impact that will stay with everyone she knew.”
“Renee’s life was taken so suddenly and tragically while doing the very thing that she cared so much about,” the family said. “Her passion, spirit, kindness and warmth were felt by all who knew her.”
Radziwon-Chapman is survived by her husband, Aaron Chapman, their 5-month-old daughter, Noa Elise Chapman, and their many rescue dogs and cats, the statement said.
Aaron Chapman created a GoFundMe.com support page in remembrance of his wife. People can also donate to ensure the woman’s baby girl “can follow her dreams much like her mother did,” according to the website.
“Renee’s spirit will continue to live on through her beautiful daughter Noa,” the family said.
The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately return ABC News’ requests for comment.
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