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Alaska authorities say woman may have died in wolf attack

Candice Berner, 32, was found dead on Monday. She worked for the Lake and Peninsula Borough School District.
Candice Berner, 32, was found dead on Monday. She worked for the Lake and Peninsula Borough School District.
  • Authorities work in response to "public safety concerns" about wolves
  • If it is determined Candice Berner was killed by wolf, it would be first such death on state record
  • Berner's body was found Monday night in remote area near village of Chignik Lake
  • Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman says foul play has been ruled out
  • Alaska
  • Wildlife
  • Pittsburgh

(CNN) -- Authorities in Alaska were working Friday to ensure public safety after a woman was mauled to death by animals -- most likely wolves.

The victim, Candice Berner, 32, was found dead Monday in the village of Chignik Lake, authorities said.

If the attack is confirmed, it would be the first fatal encounter with wolves on record in Alaska, said Megan Peters, spokeswoman for the Alaska State Troopers.

If officials determine which animals were responsible, authorities will try to find them and destroy them, Peters said.

An investigation determined the death was "non-criminal in nature," the troopers said in a news release, adding that "it has been concluded that the animals most likely responsible for the attack are wolves."

Troopers were working with the Department of Fish and Game "as it addresses public safety concerns regarding wolf activity close to the community of Chignik Lake," the troopers said.

Berner, a Pennsylvania native, moved to Alaska last year.

Chignik Lake is in the southwest part of the state, part of the Alaska Peninsula that shoots out from the mainland. The community of about 105 residents is about 475 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Several Chignik Lake residents have reported recent encounters with wolves, some of them threatening, Peters said.

Authorities saw a bloody trail where Berner had been dragged off a road and wolf tracks near the body, Peters said.

"It's hard. It's really hard. I feel horrible, you know, empty," her father, Robert Berner, told KTUU-TV in Anchorage, Alaska. "They said Candice put up a good fight," he said, "and there must have been two, maybe three of them."

Berner described his daughter as "small and mighty," a woman who liked to box, lift weights and run, according to a dispatch in the Slippery Rock Herald, the newspaper in her Pennsylvania hometown. She was training for a race and could get into a meditative state when running, her father said.

Foul play has been ruled out, Peters said.

Berner was an itinerant special education teacher, according to CNN affiliate WTAE-TV of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Authorities listed her address as Perryville, Alaska, around 30 miles from where her body was found.

She had arrived in Chignik this week to work at the school there, the Slippery Rock Herald said. Berner had been with the Lake and Peninsula Borough School District since August, schools official Rick Luthi said.

Her co-workers last saw her alive at the end of the workday Monday, Luthi told the newspaper.

"She had made the comment that she wanted to get out and get some fresh air," Luthi said. "We assumed that that meant a run for Candice, because she had a habit of doing that whenever she could."

Her father was a professor and taught her first special education class, KTUU-TV said.

"I felt like it was work worth doing, and I've always felt that way," Robert Berner said. "I thought Candice would be able to handle it well, because she has a tremendous tolerance for those who are different."

Residents in Berner's hometown recalled an adventurous woman who loved the outdoors and longed to live in Alaska, WTAE said.

Patrick Grant, of Slippery Rock University's Special Education Department, told the station that Berner returned home for grad school and that he last saw her about 18 months ago.

"She cared about other people," Grant told WTAE. "She cared about kids. She cared about how she'd make a difference in the world. That's why she was there. She wanted to make a difference in the world."

Berner was featured in Slippery Rock's winter 2010 journal, where she talked about life in Alaska without television and having her groceries flown in. She also wrote a blog called "Adventures of an Alaskan Bush Teacher," posting photos on it and writing about the wildlife -- particularly the wolves that lurked in the wilderness.

"This tragedy affects all of us. We're all deeply crushed by it," Grant said. "We're all deeply concerned about someone so young reaching such a tragic death, and we're all asking ourselves, 'What can we do?' And I don't know what the answer is."

CNN's Greg Morrison and Dave Alsup contributed to this report.