Three Boy Scouts who helped to rescue their Scoutmaster after he was mauled by a bear have been recognized for their exceptional bravery and composure. Late last year, 50-year-old Christopher Petronino and three boys, at the time aged 10 to 12, took a hiking trip near Split rock Reservoir in Morris County, New Jersey. The group came across a small cave that Petronino was familiar with. Sensing an opportunity to show the boys what a unoccupied bear den would look like, the Scoutmaster started climbing into the cave only to realize it was not empty after all. A black bear inside grabbed his leg and pulled him further into the cave, trapping Petronino in a corner.
“Petronino struck the bear twice in the head with a rock hammer. He then pulled his sweatshirt over his head and curled into the fetal position,” Bob Considine, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), told nj.com. “He yelled to the scouts, who were outside the cave, to leave and go get help.”
The scouts, which included Petronino’s own son Michael Petronino, as well as brothers Frankie and Vincent Lepore, retreated to safe distance and called 911. Unfortunately, with no real landmarks, the group had difficulty relaying to rescuers their location inside the 625-acre wilderness. The boys later returned to the mouth of the cave and attempted to draw the bear out with food. When that did not work, they built a fire near the entrance and tried to smoke the animal out. Inside, Petronino said he was trying to keep the bear at bay with little more than a rock hammer. He suffered injuries to his left arm, face, shoulders, and scalp.
“I’m doing fine now. I have some paralysis in the triceps and some numbness in my face, everything else has come back very well,” Petronino told the Daily Record. “I’m very proud of all of [the boys]. I’ve known the Lepores since Frankie was 4. Used to drive him and my daughter to preschool.”
Some of the rescuers later credited the smoke from the fire for helping lead them to the cave. Earlier this month, the boys were awarded with the American Legion Auxiliary Youth Hero awards from ALA Unit 390 President Ellie Zaleski, who praised their composure and assistance in the incident.
You can watch an interview with the Lepore brothers below: