October 8th, 2010 started out as just another day for Justin Smeja.
He and a friend (whom to this day remains anonymous) were bear hunting in the Sierra Mountains of California. They were off the beaten path in his friend's truck, driving along the twisted roads near Gold Lake. Suddenly they came across a clearing in the forest and standing in the road right in front of them was a giant "bear" waving it's arms frantically. It was very strange. What an odd thing for a bear to be doing...
|The incident took place near Gold Lake in the California Sierras.|
(Click to enlarge)
Justin's friend stopped the truck and grabbed his binoculars. They were set for scanning mountain passages so at first everything was fuzzy. He was able to clear them, and when he did, his heart sank. This wasn't a bear... It was a giant creature, almost human-like, covered with fur.
"I would say I took a double take but I couldn't take my eyes off of it," the driver would later say in an internet Bigfoot forum.
At that moment, a shot fired off. Justin had shot the creature and it fell over into the brush on the side of the road. Then and just as suddenly, two smaller creatures emerged from the forest onto the road. Unlike the larger beast, the smaller ones ran on all fours. Out of a strange mixture of adrenaline and instinct, Justin fired off another shot. He hit one of the smaller animals, killing it instantly. The other escaped into the woods.
At that moment, Justin's life changed forever.
He and his friend ran to the spot where the animals lay. He picked up the little one which was barely alive. It died in his arms. Everything happened very fast.
A million questions entered Justin's brain. Everything was foggy and this reality seemed impossible. He understood that what he had just killed wasn't a couple of bears, but what they hell were they? Nothing made sense. He and his friend hightailed it back to the truck. They turned it around and hastily drove back down the mountain. A million questions remained. Ultimately there was only one explanation. Justin had killed a Bigfoot and one of her offspring. Nothing else made sense. Until that day, Justin had never thought twice about the mythical beast that supposedly inhabits the forests of the world.
They didn't return to the site for several weeks. One has to understand that this incident occurred up in the Sierra Mountains, a long way away from the iron jaws of Sacramento where Justin lives. It wasn't like Justin could just jump in a vehicle and drive there quickly. Nor did he necessarily want to. He was going through several different emotions regarding the incident, and he described the days afterwards as experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He couldn't stop thinking about the animals he had shot. He was overcome with feelings of guilt and confusion. Life was a blur. He knew had vivid memories, but nothing made sense.
|Justin Smeja in the Sierras|
(Click to enlarge)
A few weeks later he felt that he could return to the site of the killing. With his friend and a bloodhound, they returned to the Sierras to inspect the area. Justin hoped that at least some parts of the animal would still be there, maybe perhaps a tuft of hair and/or bones.
Some people have argued that he was wrong to think that there still might be fragments of his kill remaining on the mountain. Surely scavengers would have cleaned the area up leaving no trace of the incident.
As an avid outdoorsman he has spent much of his life in the woods. He knows nature's quirks and patterns. He figured it was possible that fragments remained on the mountain. The elevation was high enough that there was snow on the ground, and despite what an amateur might think, Justin knew that it wasn't always the case that scavengers and nature will quickly dispose of the carcass and bones. From his experiences, he knew that sometimes particles remained several weeks after a kill.
Now, depending on what story you find on the internet, it's likely that you'll read that Justin and his friend carved into the animal and cut off a piece of "steak." But according to Justin, that's not how it went down.
"I did not cut anything off a carcass." Justin told me in an email. "I found circumstantial evidence a few weeks after the shooting, and based on time, place, smell, color and texture I believe it most likely is from the subject I shot. So far, none of the labs have me thinking otherwise."
The circumstantial evidence he is referring to is a sample of flesh tissue he found on the ground upon his return to the site. There was also bone fragments and the clothing he wore on the day of the shooting.
"We are working with labs and researchers committed to getting to the bottom of this through the evidence we have," he added.
After breaking the news, the internet rumors began to swirl. The Bigfoot community can be a strange place as one can imagine, and there are those who are deemed credible and those who are not. Many in the "credible crowd" are backing Justin's story.
One such person is Tyler Bounds. He is a production associate with the hit TV show, Finding Bigfoot. He is also an associate for the Bigfoot Research Organization (BFRO), which is perhaps the most credible Bigfoot organization in the world. He told me this about Justin:
"People I know and trust, and privy to information I don't have, believe him, and I have to take that into account. He claims to have killed multiple creatures, but I don't know what those creatures may be. Bigfoots? Bears? The Sierras have a record of activity, both historical and contemporary, so I don't have a reason to dismiss his claims out-of-hand, but, as someone who is both cynical and skeptical of people's observations and interpretations, I need the same thing to believe that others do - proof."
|The vast and mysterious Sierra Mountains of California |
(Photo by Bart Cutino, click to enlarge.)
Jason and his friend gathered what they could at the kill site and brought it home. He contacted Dr. Melba Ketchum, a DNA specialist in Timpson, Texas, and handed the flesh tissue to her. Her company, DNA Diagnostics specializes in forensics, genetics, and administering animal and human DNA testing. It's important to note that one can't test a subject for Bigfoot, since clearly there is no definitive proof that the creature exists. One can only compare the DNA to samples of known subjects, such as bear, elk, coyote, etc. and begin the process of elimination. This of course takes time... It's not something that can be processed quickly, and here it is over a year later and we still don't have the final determination of the species.
Meanwhile Justin has undergone an intense screening process, by both the Bigfoot community and scientists. Twice now he has taken lie detector tests to prove his credibility. Both times he passed, without showing any signs of deception. His life has changed dramatically, and he is sought after daily from people in the Bigfoot community, both amateur and professional. His story has been ripped to shreds in online Bigfoot forums, and many have called him a killer, saying that killing a Bigfoot creature is akin to murder. Through necessity of survival, he has now embraced his place in Bigfoot lore, at least to some extent. He has become friends and associates with many in the Bigfoot community including folks at the BFRO and Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum, renown author and professor of Anatomy and Anthropology at Idaho State University. Dr. Meldrum is considered by many to be the leading scientist involved with the study of Bigfoot' existence. He is just one of many who have accompanied Justin to the site where the incident took place.
Bart Cutino is also highly respected in the Bigfoot community and has quickly become one of Justin's good friends. He has become the lead investigator in the case and is currently processing the "circumstantial" evidence collected several weeks after the shooting in two prominent independent NA labs.
When asked, Bart told me this about results: "Through our newly formed Sierras Evidence Initiative, results including lab determinations and all communications through the processing period, will be transparent and shared publicly when completed. No timetable and no guarantee on results, only findings and final determinations."
|Justin Smeja and Bart Cutino in the Sierras|
(Click to enlarge)
It's safe to say that since the incident in the Sierras, Justin's life has changed dramatically. Remember, he says he never gave two thoughts about Bigfoot prior to this encounter in the Sierras. Despite being bombarded on a daily basis by people from all over the world, he took the time to sit down and answer some questions from me through email. For this I am very grateful. The conversation is as follows:
What was your life like before the Bigfoot encounter? Were you a believer and did you give his existence much thought?
Never gave it a second thought. Wouldn't consider myself to have been a skeptic. I never heard anyone talk about Bigfoot in a real manner. Anymore then people that talk about ghosts or aliens or any of that other shit.
Briefly tell me about the events that led up to you shooting a Bigfoot.
We were legally bear hunting. Saw one a bipedal primate and shot it.
Did you feel threatened by the creature?
The situation seems surreal and like a dream. Hard to pin-point my feelings other then that.
What was going through your mind as you pulled the trigger?
It was like that feeling when your watching two of your drunk best friends take it outside to fight over some drunk drama. You know you should stop it but its fucking awesome and you can't wait to see it happen. I was a different person then when it comes to Bigfoot.
If presented with the situation again, would you do anything differently?
I would do everything different. Start with getting a camera instead of a gun.
Any word yet on DNA results from the piece you found?
Yes. So far so good... work in progress. The DNA results will be made public when the labs are done testing them. We are not on a time schedule but I sure wish we had the answers a long time ago. Soon, I hope, but I can not say for sure. DNA works nothing like Bigfooters think it does. "Three days. Tops. Right?" No. It most certainly has not been that easy.
Tell me about the lie-detector test. Were you nervous going in, and what was the reaction(s) of the person/people who administered the test?
I've taken two on this subject. Passed both obviously. Both administrators seemed surprised and taken back. I was nervous taking the test. I felt like I had a lot to lose and nothing to gain.
Are you enjoying the "fame" that this episode has brought to you?
If you call fame being constantly bashed on Shawn's site (In the forums on the Bigfoot Evidence Blog) or having a bunch of strangers on my Facebook page, then sure, it's the shit! You don't make any money, your constantly spending money on gas to go Sqautchin' and everybody thinks in the back of your mind you're lying. Its great!
What do you think the world can learn from this experience?
Hopefully through DNA that these things are real.
The Sierra Site Project
Shawn's Site: The Bigfoot Evidence Blog
The Bigfoot Researchers Organization