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Woman who died with 'bear guru' was duped

5/31/2006

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — For 16 months since Amie Huguenard and Timothy
Treadwell died in the jaws of a bear at Kaflia Bay on the Katmai
Coast, I have been waking up at night with thoughts of this
37-year-old Midwestern woman I never knew.

I can't get free of the words in an e-mail from an old boyfriend,
sent months after Huguenard's death.

"Amie had a kind of naivete about her that added a real sweetness
to her entire persona," Stephen Bunch wrote. "At times it was easy
to convince her of things that were not entirely true. We would let
her in on these jokes and get a good laugh, especially from her.

"Sometimes I found this quality frustrating because I would watch
her 'swallow the hook, line and sinker' in situations where it was
obvious what was going on. But I always felt I could trust her because
she bestowed the same trust in you unconditionally."

The last person Amie Huguenard trusted was Treadwell, and it led to
her death in the jaws of a bear.

Ever since, she has been billed as Treadwell's "partner" in the
tragedy. Early reviews of "Grizzly Man," a Treadwell film set to air
at the Sundance Film Festival later this month, describe her that way
or as the "girlfriend" following Treadwell on his quest to "leave
the confinements of his humanness and bond with the bears."

That's a novel idea — and one that is so much bunk.

Treadwell wasn't bonding with anything. He was playing with live
explosives, and Huguenard was a victim when one of the bombs went off.

Her death hit close to home. I love bears, but I also had occasion
to shoot one off my foot years ago. I know what it is to be in the
teeth of a bear, and it is not the way I'd wish for anyone to go.
There is nothing glorious about it.

Ever since the bloody tragedy at Kaflia, some Treadwell supporters
have suggested the attack was a bizarre twist of fate that saw
Treadwell, who claimed to be at Kaflia protecting bears from poachers,
killed and eaten by some "rogue" animal. The deaths were an
unfortunate and horrible accident, they contend.

Only one problem. It was no accident.

Anyone who has any doubts can go back and read what Treadwell said
through the years about the bears of Katmai and his relationship with
them. He predicted again and again that a bear was going to kill him.

But don't take my word for it.

Writer David Wallace, who last interviewed Treadwell for The Malibu
Times in June and became friends with the naturalist, received a
letter dated July 11.

"He called me as he was leaving, and said, 'I'll see you sometime
in October if I don't die up there,' " Wallace said. "I, probably
like everyone else, sort of wrote that off as self-dramatizing, as he
was prone to do."

Treadwell spent his summers hanging out with grizzlies and
photographing them. Supporters say he was reaching out to the animals,
developing a new sort of caring relationship between men and bears.

One big, old boar put an end to all that new-age California talk by
killing Treadwell. For months afterward, I devoted hundreds of hours
to investigating what made Treadwell tick, and I must confess I found
in him things easy to admire.

He was a first-rate photographer and an engaging entertainer. He
had good intentions about the environment.

Above all else, he was a tough guy. Not tough in the fighting sense
but in the wilderness sense. He survived on the Katmai coast for years
because he had grit. He often lived cold, wet and hungry. He accepted
it as part of the experience.

What he found in that experience we'll never know.

I'm confident it was more than the small bit of celebrity he
gained. I know it was more than the money his nonprofit Grizzly People
organization collected from bear lovers.

Other than that, all I know for sure is that Treadwell was half a
bubble off.

A past association with drugs may be part of the reason. But the
real answer may be buried deep in his childhood on New York's Long
Island. Most of the people who knew the boy named Timothy Dexter find
they don't know him very well when they start scratching their brains
for memories.

Despite any "issues," as they would say in California, Treadwell
intimately knew the environment he was flying into when he headed for
Kaflia Bay.

Yet he took no precautions. He threw away his bear spray. He
ditched the electric fence legitimate bear researchers studying in the
area use to protect their camps. He approached bears instead of
maintaining a safe distance. He camped next to bear trails in heavy
cover.

When you take these risks repeatedly, it isn't an oversight.

Perhaps the inevitable disaster could be written off as the bad
judgment of a thrill junkie if the dead man hadn't told so many people
beforehand that he expected to be killed by a bear.

Treadwell told bear scientists he welcomed death by bear. He said
it would be an honor to be killed, eaten and rendered bear scat. Had
National Park Service rangers not killed the bear that ate him, he
would have gotten his wish.

And if that had been all that happened, I wouldn't be writing this.

If that had been all that happened, I wouldn't be thinking about
Amie Huguenard in the middle of the night. And I wouldn't find myself
frustrated at the people who dismiss her death by saying she went
along willingly with Treadwell.

Alaska State Troopers earlier this year reluctantly revealed that
the last entries in her journal intimated she was afraid of the bears
and wanted to be away from Kaflia.

Treadwell had a satellite phone. He could have recognized these
legitimate fears and called for a plane to come get them. He didn't.

He kept playing his deadly little game until it killed them.

The Grizzly People organization, which took possession of the
journals and videotapes of Treadwell and Huguenard, has no interest in
trying to determine what sparked the bear attack. Grizzly People
promoted Treadwell while he was alive, and now it will promote the
myth of Treadwell.

Along with the film at Sundance, at least one more Treadwell movie
and a couple of books are reported to be in the works.

But who will grieve for Amie Huguenard, the innocent victim in all
this? Maybe that's why her ghost keeps haunting me.

Contact Craig Medred at cmedred@and.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard
News Service
.