Portland man haunted by friend's zoo death (killed by lion) Long, but worth it



Seems the more things change, the more they say the same.

Decades later, still trapped in the lion's den
A Portland man is haunted by the fatal mauling of his friend in 1970 at what
is now the Oregon Zoo
Friday, December 28, 2007
ERIN HOOVER BARNETT
The Oregonian Staff
Ken Bowers learned from television news Wednesday of the Christmas Day tiger
mauling at the San Francisco Zoo. Alone in his gray Southeast Portland
bungalow, Bowers remembered the words of his friend 37 years ago.

"Help me, Kenny."

Bowers, Roger Adams and Mike Gaskell were partying late that Fourth of July
in 1970 when they decided to pay an after-hours visit to what was then the
Portland Zoo. Bowers believes that Adams, then 19 and the youngest, wanted
to demonstrate his courage when he crawled over the fence and dangled
himself into the lions' den.

The facts of Adams' death that night at the paws of two lions and the fatal
tiger mauling this week in San Francisco of a teenage visitor are different.
Adams put himself at risk. Investigators are examining not only whether the
tiger's victim had taunted the animal but also whether the tiger's wall was
high enough.

Yet the deaths underscore the destruction that can come when man meets
beast -- and the destruction to witnesses such as Bowers, now 58. He still
believes more could have been done to save his friend and he is still
haunted by his return to the lions two days later to shoot and kill them.

Bowers was 21 when he and Adams took an apartment together, Bowers said
Thursday at his home. Bowers was dating Adams' sister. Adams had graduated
from Madison High School and read meters for the city water bureau. Bowers
hoped Adams, who drank alcohol but didn't use drugs, would help Bowers stay
clean.

Raised in Medford by his mother after his dad's death, Bowers brawled for
respect. More fights after moving to Portland led to expulsion from Madison
High and eventually to juvenile detention. Later turned down for service in
Vietnam, Bowers turned to heroin. He says he cleaned up in rehab before
moving in with Adams.

Oregon Zoo officials say what happened that night in 1970 would not happen
now because of increased security. The zoo also no longer has lions, though
it will again in 2009.

But that night, hopping the zoo fence started as a drunken lark. Adams
climbed into the penguin quarters and earned laughs as he slipped and slid
after the birds. But when Adams moved on to hang over the wall of the bears'
den, Bowers and Gaskell chastised him, and he promptly pulled himself up.

Then the men became separated, Bowers says. When Bowers passed the lion
exhibit, he caught sight of Adams, his legs and body hanging over the wall.
One of the lions swept Adams into their pit.

The facts of Adams' death that night at the paws of two lions and the fatal
tiger mauling this week in San Francisco of a teenage visitor are different.
Adams put himself at risk. Investigators are examining not only whether the
tiger's victim had taunted the animal but also whether the tiger's wall was
high enough.

Yet the deaths underscore the destruction that can come when man meets
beast -- and the destruction to witnesses such as Bowers, now 58. He still
believes more could have been done to save his friend and he is still
haunted by his return to the lions two days later to shoot and kill them.

Bowers was 21 when he and Adams took an apartment together, Bowers said
Thursday at his home. Bowers was dating Adams' sister. Adams had graduated
from Madison High School and read meters for the city water bureau. Bowers
hoped Adams, who drank alcohol but didn't use drugs, would help Bowers stay
clean.

Raised in Medford by his mother after his dad's death, Bowers brawled for
respect. More fights after moving to Portland led to expulsion from Madison
High and eventually to juvenile detention. Later turned down for service in
Vietnam, Bowers turned to heroin. He says he cleaned up in rehab before
moving in with Adams.

Oregon Zoo officials say what happened that night in 1970 would not happen
now because of increased security. The zoo also no longer has lions, though
it will again in 2009.

But that night, hopping the zoo fence started as a drunken lark. Adams
climbed into the penguin quarters and earned laughs as he slipped and slid
after the birds. But when Adams moved on to hang over the wall of the bears'
den, Bowers and Gaskell chastised him, and he promptly pulled himself up.

Then the men became separated, Bowers says. When Bowers passed the lion
exhibit, he caught sight of Adams, his legs and body hanging over the wall.
One of the lions swept Adams into their pit.

Bowers' eyes filled with tears as he remembered pounding on the door,
looking in at the attendant and the rows of clearly labeled keys hanging on
the wall behind him. Bowers pleaded to unlock the cage to free his friend.
Then he pleaded to unlock a pen of trash barrels so that he could throw a
barrel to his friend to hide in.

"He didn't help me," Bowers said of the attendant. "He wouldn't even look at
me."

The lions backed off, and Bowers and Gaskell threw trash into the pit to try
keeping them at bay. But soon Bowers watched as one of the lions got up and
paced toward Adams. He yelled to his friend. He told him to fight. And then
he saw the lion go for Adams' throat. He recalls his friend's words:
"Goodbye, Kenny."

Zoo officials said that today, trained security guards are on duty around
the clock and could tranquilize or shoot an animal in such a situation. No
one who worked at the zoo in 1970 remains on staff to comment about the
situation at that time, said Linda D'Ae-Smith, a zoo spokeswoman. Newspaper
reports from the time mention an attendant but not any failure to act.

At his home Thursday, Bowers sat, arms resting on his wiry legs, in his tidy
living room, the air thick with cigarette smoke and his memories.

He didn't want to talk about those memories. He apologized aloud to the
Adams family for dredging up the horror. He thinks Adams' parents have died
but that his sister and other siblings may remain.


Back in the pit

Bowers said he asked the day after Adams' death whether the lions would be
put down as the zoo did when a bear mauled a keeper. Bowers said a zoo
employee gave him the impression that because Adams had put himself in
harm's way, the lions didn't deserve to die.

Seething, Bowers said he and one of Adams' brothers made their way to the
zoo two nights after the event. Bowers said he scrambled over the security
fence at the lions' exhibit and leaned into the pit with a hunting rifle.

Bowers said he loved animals and didn't want the lions to suffer. He said he
shot one in the head and the other in the chest. But they did not die
quickly.

Bowers wasn't caught that night. He was arrested two years later when
information emerged. In early 1973, he was sentenced to a year in jail but
had to serve only six months.

The rest of his sentence has been since then. Bowers fell back into heroin
for a time. He eventually hired on as a sheet metal worker on tall
buildings, the taller and more dangerous, he said, the better. He wanted to
die. He's now retired on disability. Gaskell later died.

Bowers rubbed his rough hands together, his long hair, graying now, pulled
back from his worn face.

At his feet, two of his four house cats purred. Bowers said after the
experience with the lions, he hated cats. But a few years back, he took one
in that had been saved from traffic. Over time, three more damaged strays
found Bowers.

Bowers rose cautiously and walked to his front door, checking the food bowl
on the front porch. There are many homeless cats in the neighborhood, he
said. He cares for them, too.

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