Woman killed by cougar was cleaning cage, facility owner says

Woman killed by cougar was cleaning cage, facility owner says »Play Video
Renee Radziwon-Chapman in a photo released by her family.

PORTLAND, Ore. – A Portland woman who was killed in a cougar attack at a private animal sanctuary on Saturday was cleaning an enclosure alone when she was attacked, the sanctuary's owner told investigators.

Renee Radziwon-Chapman, 36, was an employee at WildCat Haven sanctuary in Sherwood, Ore.

The Clackamas County Sheriff's Office incident report said the facility's owner, Michael Tuller, reported the cougar attack Saturday night just before 7 p.m. after he found Radziwon-Chapman lying on her back inside the cougar enclosure. Tuller pulled her by her boots to a secure area before calling 911.

Tuller told deputies that Radziwon-Chapman was cleaning the enclosure when she was attacked. He said the attack should not have happened because "they always go into the cages in pairs." 

Deputies found one cougar with blood on its nose walking inside the main enclosure and another cougar inside a 15-by-15-foot enclosed cage.

The sheriff's office concluded there was no crime to be investigated. Both the sheriff's office and medical examiner said Radziwon-Chapman died of injuries consistent with a wild animal attack.

In a statement released on Sunday, WildCat Haven said Radziwon was alone with the cougars during the attack, which goes against the facility's protocols.

Radziwon-Chapman's mother told The Associated Press her daughter had expressed concerns about safety measures at the sanctuary before the attack.

"There was no one there to help her. There was no one at that sanctuary. They left her completely alone," Carol Radziwon told the AP by phone from Pennsylvania.

Tuller told investigators that Radziwon-Chapman was alone at the sanctuary because he and his wife were at their property in Scotts Mills, where they plan to move the sanctuary, according to the incident report.

When asked by deputies if anything inside the cages was different that might cause the cougars to attack, Tuller said he noticed a hose inside the cage, and that people who work at the sanctuary know not to bring hoses into the enclosures, according to the sheriff's office report.

WildCat Haven houses tigers, cougars and other predators. The facility is not open to the public, but does provide on-site tours to donors. The facility has nearly 60 cats, including four tigers, according to its website.

A statement released by Renee Radziwon-Chapman’s family said her passion, spirit, kindness and warmth “were felt by all who knew her.”

Radziwon-Chapman’s family said she had over 20 years of experience with wildcats and domestic animals. She graduated from Portland State University with a degree in biology.

She is survived by a husband, Aaron Chapman, and five-month-old daughter, Noa Chapman. A fundraising site has been set up for Noa’s future.

KATU's Erica Nochlin received this email from Radziwon-Chapman’s cousin, Debi Vietri, on Sunday:

"My family has lost an angel this weekend. My second cousin Renee Radziwon-Chapman's life was cut short by the very animals she loved. She has left us with a legacy of love and inspiration. She was a free spirit who danced to her own music. Her smile will always light the way for those who loved her."

KATU's Erica Nochlin and Stephen Mayer contributed to this story.


Family statement:

Renee Radziwon-Chapman was a devoted wife, mother, and advocate for animals.  Her passion, spirit, kindness, and warmth were felt by all who knew her.  Renee’s life was taken so suddenly and tragically while doing the very thing that she cared so much about.

Renee graduated from Portland State University with a Biology degree and brought over 20 years of experience both with domestic animals and wildcats.  Renee garnered the utmost respect from her peers through dedication, passion, and desire to enrich the lives of all animals she encountered.
Renee is survived by a loving husband, Aaron Chapman, a beautiful baby girl, Noa Elise Chapman, and the many rescued dogs and cats still at home.  Noa will be 6 months old this month.  Renee also leaves behind her extremely supportive Mother and Father, Carol and John Radziwon, her sister, Lori Brooks, and her brother Jeff Radziwon.

Renee’s time with us was much to brief, but her drive to help all animals made an impact that will stay with everyone she knew and many she didn’t know.  Renee’s glowing smile will be missed by all.  Renee’s spirit will continue to live on through her beautiful daughter Noa.  The family appreciates all the kindness and well wishes that have been sent to the family as we deal with this tragic loss.  The family is also extremely grateful and appreciative of the support and generosity of the community.