Wolves suspected in death of Alaska teacher

ANCHORAGE — Authorities were in an Alaska Peninsula village Tuesday investigating whether a 32-year-old schoolteacher, found dead off a road leading out of town, was killed in a wolf attack, according to state and local officials.

The body of Candice Berner of Slippery Rock, Pa., was discovered Monday evening off a roughly 7-mile gravel road leading to the Chignik Lake airstrip.

Berner's father, Bob Berner, reached in Pennsylvania on Tuesday night, said Alaska State Troopers told the family their daughter had been killed in an "animal attack, possibly a wolf attack." Troopers told him it was highly unusual and still under investigation, with the body on its way to Anchorage for an autopsy, he said.

"They wanted to make sure that nothing happened prior to the animal bite," Berner said. "We're totally shocked. You know, initial denial: This can't be Candice."

Berner described his daughter as "small and mighty," a woman who liked to box, lift weights and run. She was training for a race and could get into a meditative state when running, he said.

Troopers would not comment on the cause of death, saying the investigation is ongoing and that they are awaiting the results of the autopsy. Spokeswoman Megan Peters said the body showed signs of predation but declined to provide further details.

The body was found on regional corporation land within the borders of the Alaska Peninsula Wildlife Refuge and therefore was not in federal jurisdiction, said Bruce Woods, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"I don't think there's any decision yet as to whether it was predated before or after death," Woods said. "In other words, the (woman) might have died of something else and wolves might have found the body."

An itinerant special education teacher based in Perryville, Berner had just arrived in Chignik this week to work at the school there, said Lake and Peninsula Borough School District Chief Operating Officer Rick Luthi, who is in King Salmon. Berner had been with the district since August.

Her co-workers last saw her alive at the end of the workday Monday, Luthi said.

"She had made the comment that she wanted to get out and get some fresh air," Luthi said. "We assumed that that meant a run for Candice, because she had a habit of doing that whenever she could."

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