EAST HARTLAND, Conn. (WTNH) — There was a standing ovation for a trio of heroes at the Wilderness School in East Hartland on Friday.
Allaith Ghaibah, Ellen Stumph and Eric Carlson were recognized for their bravery during a harrowing bobcat attack this past summer at Selden Neck State Park in Lyme.
The outdoor instructors were leading nine students, aged 12 to 13, at a campsite on Selden Neck Island, which is part of the state park that has more than 600 acres.
“I just realized the nature of [that] situation,” Carlson said. “It was just utter pandemonium.”
On June 30, the last night of a five-day expedition, Carlson said he was attacked around 2:30 a.m. as he slept in his hammock.
“[I] elbowed [the animal] pretty hard,” Carlson said. “I think I maybe had like disoriented it, and then I felt it over my body, and I knew this was not a raccoon.”
The animal was a bobcat, later tested by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to be positive for rabies.
The three instructors described the animal as a “giant housecat” or “medium-sized dog” that weighed about 40 or 50 pounds.
They said they fought off the bobcat three separate times within 30 minutes as the animal scratched, growled and bit them. The trio said they pinned the rabid bobcat down and killed it.
“I remember it jumped on [Ghaibah], and he was able to kind of like pull it off, rip it off,” Carlson said.
“You have to act,” Ghaibah said. “I remember during all those [three attacks], it was like the clearest I was ever to think in a way, just with the adrenaline going and everything.”
Friday’s recognition was part of a ceremony to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness School, a referral program that partners with social service agencies in Connecticut.
Wilderness School Program Director Aaron Wiebe said they serve about 2,000 teenagers and young adults each year and have never had an attack like this.
“[It’s] one in a million,” Wiebe said. “It’s a fear of anybody running a program like this. If a tree falls the wrong way, or if there’s something so random like that, that beyond any training that you can provide, there’s a moment that is unexpected.”
The instructors said they suffered injuries, including severed tendons, scratches and bites. None of the students were hurt.
“It felt like our minds were together, and we did just what we had to do to keep each other safe and the students that we were out there with safe,” Stumph said.