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Bear with sweet tooth crashes children's party

Posted: June 26, 2014 - 7:47pm  |  Updated: June 26, 2014 - 7:54pm
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Glenn Merrill, 45, holds Jackson Merrill in front of their broken skylight in their living room on Tuesday. A black bear climbed up on their roof and crashed through the skylight on Saturday minutes before Jackson's first birthday party.
Glenn Merrill, 45, holds Jackson Merrill in front of their broken skylight in their living room on Tuesday. A black bear climbed up on their roof and crashed through the skylight on Saturday minutes before Jackson's first birthday party.

A black bear with a sweet tooth crashed a little kid’s birthday party on Saturday. Literally.

The uninvited guest shimmied its way up onto the roof of a Starr Hill home, crashed through a skylight and landed in the middle of Alicia Bishop’s and Glenn Merrill’s living room, the homeowners say.

“I was literally in the room, and I heard this cracking,” Merrill said in an interview Tuesday, referring to the sound of the skylight’s two layers of plexiglass creaking under the bear’s weight. “And the next thing you know, there’s this bear that, I mean, literally, fell right from (the skylight). It was like three feet away from me.”

The 45-year-old dad, whose infant son Jackson was in the adjoining room at the time, locked eyes with the bear. They stared at each other in disbelief, he said.

“I don’t know who was more stunned,” he said. “I think, both.”

Invited guests of the two-legged kind had yet to arrive at their house but were expected any minute when the party crasher dropped in. Merrill and Bishop had been “running around in a mad dash” — grilling salmon and baking a birthday cake —as they made last-minute preparations for their son’s 1-year-old birthday party.

Merrill reacted quickly. He hollered for his parents to take Jackson upstairs to safety and he ran into the adjacent room and closed the door behind him.

The dazed bear quickly recovered from its fall. It then calmly wandered over to the living room table, replete with a spread of birthday treats, and helped itself to some lemon blueberry and peanut butter cupcakes.

“The bear walks over and puts its paws up on the table and starts licking his birthday cupcakes, and I’m just like, you’ve got to be kidding me,” said Bishop, 33, who was watching the spectacle from the kitchen behind closed glass doors.

The bear enjoyed the red and green cupcake frosting while Bishop opened a door on the other side of the room that led to the backyard. The couple then yelled and “shooed” at the bear until it casually ambled out the door.

“I think he was used to humans,” Merrill said, adding the bear did not act aggressively.

“He was awfully calm,” Bishop added.

The bear was only inside the house for about three to four minutes, but the incident didn’t end there, the couple says. It came around the back of the house and peered inside from the wooden porch in the backyard.

“It was up by the window like, ‘I want more cupcakes,’” Bishop said.

“He wanted back in, that’s for sure,” Merrill said.

With guests expected to arrive any minute, Bishop called 911 at that point. Merrill, meanwhile, ran next door to borrow bear spray from the neighbors. It was only after Merrill sprayed the mace in its vicinity that the bear meandered into the woods.

The same bear?

There’s no way to know for certain, but Alaska Department of Fish and Game Management Coordinator Ryan Scott believes it might be the same bear that walked inside an occupied home on Rawn Way above Gastineau Avenue that same day.

The people at the home called 911, and responding Juneau Police Department officers shot and killed the bear since it kept trying to re-enter the home.

Scott said that incident happened about 30 minutes after the birthday party episode, and the two houses are in close proximity. The bear killed was a young male weighing about 180 pounds, which matches Merrill’s and Bishop’s description of the bear in their house, Scott said.

“I believe it was likely the same bear,” he said in a phone interview.

Scott and a colleague were actually at Starr Hill earlier that afternoon in response to a report that a bear had tried to access a garbage shed. Scott and his coworker had located the bear at the garbage enclosure and shooed it off into the woods. They lost sight of it after that. As they were driving back to the office, they received the phone call from JPD that a bear had broken into Merrill and Bishop’s home.

It’s impossible to know if all three sightings on Saturday were the same bear, especially since there’s a lot of bears in that area. The Starr Hill neighborhood is located on the hillside of Mount Roberts.

“It’s very common up against Mount Roberts,” Scott said. “That’s just a bear-y spot, lots of activity up there.”

But Scott said he hadn’t received any reports of bears in the area since.

One crossed in front of this reporter’s car on Tuesday afternoon without flinching and lumbered down the street past the colorful houses on Star Hill.

Based on its description, Merrill said it could have been the one that crashed his son’s birthday party. Either way, he said it’s sad they get habituated so quickly because that usually doesn’t end well for the bears.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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