'I just kept telling myself: You're not going to die' — Alberta woman speaks out after 12 days lost in woods
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Disclaimer: Metro is withholding the woman's name and those of three other family members interviewed because she is the victim of an alleged sexual assault.
Her jaw was broken, her clothes were drenched and she was face-to-face with a bear.
It was the night of July 14, the first of 12 the woman, a resident of the O'Chiese First Nation in Central Alberta, would spend lost in the bush.
According to RCMP, the woman had been sexually assaulted hours prior by a man after the truck they were travelling in became stuck on the reserve's north end. It's alleged he punched her in the face, breaking her jaw, but she managed to escape.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the incident on Thursday, the woman said she became immediately disoriented after she was hurt. Then the rain started coming down.
"I found a den," she said. "I went inside and then a bear came. She smelled me up . . . I kept my eyes locked (on her), I didn't even want to blink."
She said the bear then walked away but she continued to hear it nearby. By morning, it was gone.
But the ordeal was far from over — family members believe the woman trekked up to 30 kilometres over the next 12 days, sticking close to the river and feeding off berries she foraged.
"I just kept telling myself: 'You're not going to die,'" she said.
The woman said her boyfriend is a fan of survival TV shows and she occasionally watches with him. Her father is also a hunter and had taught her some tricks of the wilderness trade.
She made sure to keep her clothes dry but also hopped into the river from time to time to ride the current, a faster method of travelling than on foot. She swears she saw the same bear again across the river at one point when she was frantically calling for help a few days later.
Finally, on July 26, the woman was found by an oilfield worker on a rural road, just four kilometres from a major highway. She was rushed to hospital and spent weeks recovering. Even now, her jaw is not healing properly and may require further surgery.
Still, she's just happy to be alive.
"I'll never forget the bear," she said, before adding, "I have got a second chance at life and am so grateful for that."
Kevin Roy Gladue of Edmonton has been charged with sexual assault, aggravated assault and obstructing a peace officer in connection with the incident.