Airman didn't want to shoot charging Denali moose, but felt he had to

By RICHARD MAUER | Anchorage Daily News | Published: June 13, 2013

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The man who shot a cow moose in Denali National Park last week is an airman stationed in Anchorage who says he regrets the animal's death but said it would have been worse if he allowed the charging moose to stomp him or the children and adults with him.

Staff Sgt. Bob Sirvid, 26, identified as the shooter Tuesday by the U.S. Park Service, has never fired a weapon in combat and has an Air Force job controlling mosquitoes and other pests. He is the first Denali Park visitor to kill a moose since Congress allowed guns in America's national parks in 2010.

"I feel very lucky that no one got hurt, that the kids are still alive, that we were all able to react quick enough," Sirvid said. "It's unfortunate that the female moose lost her life, but the family's still alive."

The Park Service has ruled the shooting justified and says that Sirvid should not be prosecuted for killing wildlife or discharging a weapon in the park, both normally against the law.

Sitting down with two reporters at a conference table at Joint Base Elmendorf- Richardson, Sirvid said he doesn't carry a weapon into the woods, but did so last week on the advice of his neighbor in Eagle River, whom he described as a lifelong Alaskan. The neighbor loaned him the sidearm, a .41-caliber single-shot revolver, Sirvid said.

He corrected one piece of misinformation in earlier accounts of the event: the 5- and 7-year-old with him in the park were not his but the children of friends visiting from Illinois, Mark and Becky Diorio. Sirvid grew up in Orland Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb, and Mark Diorio was his high school woodshop teacher. The two stayed in touch over the years, Sirvid said.

"We didn't go out there to shoot a moose," Sirvid said. "We went out there to view wildlife, to go on some nice hikes."

Sirvid graduated from Orland Park's Carl Sandburg High School in 2005, according to the Air Force, and completed his basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas in 2008. Taught to control insects and other pests, he deployed with the Air Force to Joint Base Balad, the massive base north of Baghdad, from June to December 2010.

The Air Force brought Sirvid to Alaska in January and assigned him to the 773rd Civil Engineer Squadron. JBER gives a weeklong Alaska indoctrination session in which new arrivals are taught how to react when confronting a moose or bear, he said. He's seen both on base and near his off-base home in Eagle River, to no ill effect.

Before Alaska, Sirvid was stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City, S.D., where there are no moose but lots of deer, rattlesnakes and snapping turtles.

"In South Dakota, a rattlesnake could kill you. Part of my job is to remove that threat from the population, so I would catch a deadly animal, put it in a metal box, and relocate it to another part of the base where it would not be around people. I strongly believe in the humane treatment of animals," Sirvid said.

In Alaska, the party of five — Sirvid and the Diorio family — arrived at Denali National Park on Thursday. At the entrance, Sirvid said, he asked a ranger whether he could bring his handgun into the park. The ranger said he could.

"We decided to go for a nice long hike on Triple Rivers Trail," Sirvid said. After 11 miles, they were just about back at their car Thursday evening. They were crossing a bridge, admiring a triple rainbow. Sirvid, Mark Diorio and daughter Bella, the older child, were in front; Becky Diorio and Anthony were a bit behind.

"We came around this corner on the trail and we see an animal, so we immediately stop, take a step back." It was a moose. Mark Diorio reached for his camera but stopped when the moose, from 75 feet, gave them a look.

"We started backing off and the moose started heading towards us," Sirvid said. "I turned around to Mark and I said, 'Mark, head for the trees, if you get struck, play dead.' I turned around and looked at the moose, and at this time, her head was down, near her shoulders, coming at us. We're starting to run off into the woods and I looked around one more time, it was really close to us, almost on top of us. I looked back at Mark and he just had a terrified look on his face."

At no time did he see any moose calves, he said.

Sirvid had drawn the revolver. He was hoping the moose was just making a false charge, he said. "It was the hardest thing for me to do. I just stood there and I waited till the absolute last second. I couldn't even believe that I pulled the trigger, to be honest with you — I didn't want to do it."

"Everything seemed to go silent — it just happened fast." The moose fell but was still alive. The children started crying. Sirvid and Mark Diroio tried to block their view of the struggling moose.

Sirvid walked to the visitor center. It was closed but two employees were working inside. He asked them to call a ranger. The rangers arrived, finished off the moose, and took statements.

Sirvid said he realizes some people think he shouldn't have shot the moose.

"I just wish that they were there with me. I know there are some points of views out there, but I don't think anybody would've done anything differently," Sirvid said.

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