"As long as I live, I will never forget the horror of what I saw as I ran over the edge of a ravine and saw a 300-pound black bear sitting on his haunches with his head only a matter of inches away from the head of my son," said Tony Murphy.
As the president of the Ashland Branch in the Duluth Minnesota Stake, Brother Murphy was attending a weeklong camp August 1999 with the young men of his branch at Tomahawk Scout Reservation near Rice Lake, Wis.
On the morning of the second day of camp, shortly after sunrise, a 6-year-old black bear, standing 7-feet 6-inches tall, grabbed the tent with Matt Murphy, 14-year-old son of the branch president, inside and dragged it down an 80-foot ravine where the bear began clawing and biting.
Matt burrowed into the sleeping bag, protecting his neck and head as best he could while remaining motionless, hoping the bear would retreat. But when the bear repeated his attack, Matt screamed for help.
Four other boys in the troop, Joey and Ryan L'Heureux, and their cousins, Jonathan and Kerry L'Heureux, heard the cries and responded by trying to distract the bear.
Brother Murphy heard the yelling and running of feet, but remembering that the troop had reviewed the "bear rules" with camp staff the day before and had removed all scented material from the campsite, he thought the pandemonium was merely the antics of fun-loving scouts.
He then noticed his son's tent was missing. Brother Murphy sprinted over the edge of the ravine and into a nearby wooded area where he hurled fist-sized rocks at the bear.
By this time, the bear had partially pulled Matt from a collapsed tent, leaving his head, shoulders and back fully exposed.
"It amazed me that the bear was showing absolutely no fear of me or the situation, and made no effort to retreat from Matt," said Brother Murphy. "I threw a rock as hard as I could, causing me to lose my balance and stumble the remaining distance until I landed awkwardly in between the bear and my son."
The bear retreated momentarily, long enough for Brother Murphy and the other Scouts to drag Matt to safety. Matt was transported to a nearby hospital where he received a priesthood blessing prior to surgery. "He will fully recover, except for some nasty scars," said Brother Murphy, describing the 195 stitches, severe scalp injuries and a 6-inch shoulder wound.
"I'm really proud of the boys. They deserve to be honored," said Brother Murphy. On Dec. 9, 1999, Joey, Ryan, Jonathan and Kerry received the Lifesaving Award Honor Medal. Ernest Moore
Another in a series of "Shining Moments." Illustration by Church News artist John Clark.