A 5-year-old boy was out on a walk with his mother and grandparents near the Northern California coast when a mountain lion pounced.

The big cat attacked Jack Trexler, pinning him to the ground. The boy had gotten a bit ahead of his family when the attack happened but his mother was close enough to pounce herself, according to an account sent to USA TODAY by the boy’s father, Jay Trexler.

Suzie Trexler charged the animal, causing it to let go of her son and skitter away, Jay Trexler said in a statement on Thursday. The attack happened two days earlier near a farm where the family lives in Half Moon Bay, about 30 miles south of San Francisco.

Suzie Trexler picked Jack up and rushed him to the hospital.

“It happened so fast,” Jay Trexler said, calling his wife “the bravest woman I know.”

“She did what she needed to do and saved my son,” he said.

A ‘resilient kid’

Jack was treated for cuts and scratches on his face and all over his body and for a fracture near his eye that may need surgery, Jay Trexler said. 

He was released from the hospital the same day of the attack and is recovering at home.

“He is going to be OK once his injuries heal,” Trexler wrote. “He’s a very resilient kid, and I am hoping he will bounce back quickly. When he recounted the story to me, he said, ‘Dad, a mountain lion tackled me!'”

Since the attack, he said his son has had great nights of rest and even moments of playfulness amid the pain management.

“We are going to help our son recover and then go live our life to the fullest,” he said. 

Search ended for the mountain lion

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife called the attack by a juvenile mountain lion vicious and conducted a limited search of the area, though the animal wasn’t found.

Often in such cases, animals are put down because of the threat to people they may pose. But the department hasn’t been able to continue the search because the attack occurred on private property and the owners have denied access, department spokesman Patrick Foy said Friday. 

“This lack of access, combined with worsening weather and the nomadic nature of mountain lions has diminished the chances for a successful capture of the offending mountain lion,” he said in a statement. “(The department) is concluding their investigation and any attempt to capture the offending lion.”

Mountain lions very rarely attack people. Since 1986, there have been just 21 attacks on people in California; three of them were fatal, according to the department.

A known danger

Trexler said that he and his family have been living and working on the farm where the attack occurred for more than 12 years and have done what they can to mitigate danger posed by area wildlife.

“We know the risks of working and hiking in the hills where we live with mountain lions in the area. We carry bear spray to be safe,” he said. “Those precautions didn’t matter in this case.”

He has no doubts that Jack and the family will be back out hiking soon because “that is what we do.”

“We are an outdoor-loving family, and this experience will not take that away from us,” he said. “I think it’s important to not be afraid of mountain lions but to take care and be alert when you are in their habitat … We are grateful the cat wasn’t bigger and that it didn’t bite our son because it would have been a different story.”

Amie Wagner, Trexler’s sister and Jack’s aunt, said her nephew “is such an amazing little guy and Suzie is a hero.”