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Staff and volunteers at Most Sacred Heart School in Eureka looked at the damage in the boys' bathroom after a bear entered the school and was trapped in the bathroom. The bear was tranquilized, transported and released into a rural area.
Staff and volunteers at Most Sacred Heart School in Eureka looked at the damage in the boys' bathroom after a bear entered the school and was trapped in the bathroom. The bear was tranquilized, transported and released into a rural area.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Most Sacred Heart School in Eureka unexpectedly hosts a bear

Police, conservation department remove bear to rural area

Perhaps the unbearable heat drove him inside.

Or maybe he heard they needed a bearitone voice for the school choir.

Most Sacred Heart Parish in Eureka is glad that after the bearicade, the situation turned out beary well.

A black bear spotted earlier in the day in the Legends subdivision and Old Town area of Eureka made its way across the railroad tracks and up a hill to Most Sacred Heart Parish School. Students already were gone on summer break; but Kyle Kissel, working a summer job at the school sprucing up, was eating pizza in the faculty lounge during his lunch break.

“I thought it was a stray dog,” he said of the estimated 18-month-old, 90-pound but very strong American black bear. The bear entered a back door that had been propped open just briefly as a staff member brought an item out to a vehicle — a situation that wouldn’t have happened if school were in session, because the doors would have been secured.

Monica Wilson, the school principal, said a Eureka police officer followed the bear into the building and ordered the handful of staff present on the site to stay behind closed doors. The bear headed into the lobby and ended up in the boys’ bathroom before everyone was evacuated.

Damage at Most Sacred Heart School in Eureka after a bear entered the school and was trapped in the bathroom.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston
“The Eureka police were awesome,” Wilson said. “They took very good care of us.”

The Missouri Department of Conservation arrived, and sought to entice the bear out of the back of the building and into the woods. “After a while, it seemed like that wasn’t going to happen,” said Dan Zarlenga, a spokesperson for the conservation department. “Our onsite biologist decided it would be the best thing to tranquilize the bear and remove him that way.”

The bear was transported to a rural part of Jefferson County, an area with no roads or people nearby. An ear tag was placed on him in case he wanders into a populated area again, Zarlenga said. Similar bears eventually could grow to 400-500 pounds, he added.

Soon after the bear was removed, Most Sacred Heart maintenance staff began a clean-up of the mess the bear left behind, filling a couple of large trash bins. The bear also left claw marks on the wall in the lobby and damaged an angel statue. A statue of the Sacred Heart and another angel statue were removed to protect them.

The bear sustained lacerations as he attempted to climb over the drop ceiling in the bathroom, damaging the tiles and metal stripping. Tom Walsh, facilities manager, said the damage “could have been much worse,” and he expected the repairs would be made in-house.

The parish pastor, Father Joe Kempf, said he was in the middle of writing an email message and was confused when Wilson called with the message: “There’s a bear in the school, there’s a bear in the school.”

He’s used to seeing a variety of wildlife, from deer to hawks, but never a bear, Father Kempf said. “Here’s another of God’s creatures drawn to the love that’s here,” he joked.

The puns are everywhere, he noted, including a mention that no Boston Bruins should be allowed in the school. Father Kempf felt bad for the bear, obviously terrified, and is glad the police and Department of Conservation handled things so professionally. Eureka is a growing suburb in southwest St. Louis County, and police reported that it’s the first confirmed sighting of a bear in the city. A bear was spotted in Ballwin in June of 2018.

Zarlenga could only guess on what attracted the bear inside — perhaps he was startled or saw it as a cave or was attracted by a smell. “Everyone was safe, no one was hurt, the bear was fine. So it all turned out pretty good,” he said.

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