Mother, daughter survive bee attack in Peters park
To Katie McWilliams, it is the great outdoors. She loves to be outside, loves to walk, loves to hunt, and encourages her kids to get out the door.
“I know anything can happen when you go out in nature. You take risks,” the North Strabane Township woman said. “But you don’t expect something like this.”
“This” occurred Sept. 7 along the Peters Lake Park walking trail in Peters Township. She and her 4-year-old daughter, Isla, were leisurely strolling with their dog, Scout, when they encountered a bunch of bees that stung McWilliams an estimated 75 to 100 times and Isla about 15. Screaming and panicked, and boosted by a invaluable assist from a Good Samaritan, they scrambled a quarter-mile to their car.
Mother and daughter eventually ended up at a local hospital for treatment, and after several days of discomfort, were mostly healed – physically.
“This was harrowing,” said Katie, who believes yellow jackets nesting in the ground were culprits. “They were horrifically aggressive and relentless.”
In an interview a week after the attack, she said Isla, a preschooler, “does not like to talk much about this. She’s a little more hesitant outside, a little more aware of insects.”
McWilliams posted details on her Facebook page four hours after the attack, cautioning walkers or runners who may frequent the park. Michele Harmel, director of parks and recreation in Peters, said, however, that was the only “report we’ve received (about bees in a township park) this year.” She said the department tried to locate a nest “multiple times,” without success.
The timing of this incident should not be a surprise. Late summer and early fall, according to the website pestworld.org, is “the season that stinging insects – including yellow jackets, wasps and Africanized ‘killer’ bees – are most active and aggressive, leading to an increased number of stings.”
McWilliams, a mother of four – all girls 11 and younger – said as far as she knows, neither she, Isla nor Scout did anything to rouse a nest. Mom and daughter were wearing jackets while walking on a cool early afternoon, when Katie thought she had been stuck by a thorn in the back of a leg.
“I turned and they were on me,” she said. “They liked my face and went for Isla’s hair. I pulled them off her and told her to run as fast as she can. Peggy heard our screams and came running in.”
McWilliams said Peggy Redford, a local resident and park patron, helped her pull off Isla’s clothing – to which some bees had become attached – and carried the young girl all the way back to the car, as the mother sprinted with Scout.
“Peggy got stung a few times,” McWilliams said. “If she hadn’t shown up, I don’t know what would have happened. I’m usually a person who is in control of a situation, but that wasn’t the case. Everything was going through my mind. Once Peggy appeared, it seemed like everything was more under control.”
The mother drove daughter and dog back home, dropped off Scout and planned to take the two of them to the hospital. Then Katie stopped.
“I was feeling fuzzy, not right. I couldn’t hear. I didn’t realize how badly (the bees) got both of my ears. I thought something else was wrong,” like an allergic reaction, she said.
McWilliams called 911, and the two were transported to the hospital in separate vehicles. While there, she and Isla found out that a few bees were still around. Katie’s husband, Bill, a teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools and part-time landscaper, found them in his daughter’s hair.
“The whole thing reminds me of a horror movie,” Katie said. “The monster’s NOT dead. It’s coming back.”
She said she “was covered head to toe in hives” and “my ears were black and blue for days,” but that the pain lasted about 24 hours and “wasn’t bad. I did have a feeling of great fatigue.”
The itching that accompanied healing was an ordeal, but McWilliams said she started feeling well Monday afternoon. She said she has an appointment with an allergist and may have to get an Epipen, which two other daughters use for allergies.
A week later, Katie and Isla still bore several red marks from the bees but were otherwise well. Isla seemed to be a little edgy, but smiled adorably and often. Katie is still a bit haunted by the experience but remains enamored of Peters Lake Park.
“It’s absolutely gorgeous out there,” she said. ”I imagine I will return at some point.”