A Montana woman who was violently attacked by a group of otters opened up this week about her experience. In a Facebook post, which you can read in full below, Jen Royce explained she wanted to confront those who have been critical of her and blamed her for the otter attack.
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“People who don’t know or care have made this an incident of us trying to take selfies with these creatures or like we were trying to get too close to them. We did NOT do that,” Royce wrote. “We were in the middle of the river at a wide stretch, not near the shore, and we didn’t even know the otter/otters were there until we were attacked.”
According to reports, Royce and her two friends were floating along the Jefferson River last week in southwest Montana when the otters attacked. Royce suffered deep gashes and lacerations all over her hands, face, arms, and legs. Because of the location and her injuries, she had to be airlifted to the hospital.
Word is slowly starting to get out so I’m gonna make a post about this incident.
As some of you may or may not have seen on news outlets by now, there was a river otter attack two nights ago on the Jefferson River. That attack was on two of my best friends and I while we floated the river to celebrate my birthday.
Before I continue, I want to make this VERY clear because what happened has been turned (from some “kind people” on the internet) into insane victim blaming all over social media. People who don’t know or care have made this an incident of us trying to take selfies with these creatures or like we were trying to get too close to them. We did NOT do that. We were in the middle of the river at a wide stretch, not near the shore, and we didn’t even know the otter/otters were there until we were attacked.
Around 8:15pm the otters attacked us. It lasted maybe 5 minutes? I really cannot remember. We were in the middle of the river in a deep and wide stretch that went far back from the road and behind the mountains. I saw one otter right behind my friend before it attacked. I didn’t even have a chance to get the words “there is an otter behind you” out of me before it attacked her.
This thing was vicious and relentless. It bit my face in several places, both of my ears, by arms, my hands, my legs, my thighs, and my ankle. My friends were bit on the hands and on their bottoms. One friend’s thumb was SHREDDED and she has bite marks all over her body as well.
Being in the middle of the river meant I couldn’t reach the bottom with my feet, so I was trying to tread water while fending for my body. The water was definitely where they excelled in their attack and we were helpless. I tried to kick it away but I would just get attacked somewhere else. I tried to hold it back at one point by grabbing its arm to hold it away while trying to swim closer to shore. Once I had my feet under me I was able to fight back better and was eventually able to pull myself out of the river. It swam away after that.
There were so many thoughts going through my head during the fight, but what gave me the strength and vigor, one that’s hard to repeat and to even think about, was of my children. I couldn’t bear the thought of them growing up without their mom. Without ANY exaggeration, God’s honest truth, I did not think I was going to make it out of that river. I had no clue if my friends were going to make it out. But by the grace of God we did.
By the time I made it out my friends and I were separated. I was on the south side of the river and had crawled up the hill, one friend was out on the north side by the railroad tracks, and my other dear friend was stuck on a rock still in the river, not able to get out since we didn’t know where the otter/otters went.
We had one phone between the three of us that miraculously made it to shore. In SOS mode my friend was able to contact 911. Because of our location It proved difficult for them to ping her phone for search and rescue. It felt like it was taking forever for any help to arrive (Turns out it was 53 minutes). I was covered in blood and it just kept pouring out from my face and nose. It was cold. We were wet. It was dark. We had no real “good” visual on eachother due to distance. All we could do was scream and call out to one another. To anyone. But we were just so damn far away. From anything.
Eventually we saw red and blue lights driving down the canyon. There was no way they could see us from our location. My friend who was on the phone had to make the decision to leave us and run more than two miles to the road to try and get them. I know that was not an easy decision for her to make. She had been throwing large rocks in the river the whole time to keep the otters away from my friend who was still in the water. As she left I told my other friend to run as quickly and as hard as she could through the water and up that hill. I praise God that she had the COURAGE and strength to get back in that water and to the safety of the hill above.
By this point I was extremely faint and I honestly didn’t know what was happening to my body. With all my heart I did not think I was not going to wake up if I closed my eyes and passed out. I made the choice, knowing the pain it would cause my friend, to tell her I loved her and to ask her to watch over my kids. I am so sorry for the anxiety and the pain that caused her, but I didn’t want to not say those words in case it did turn that direction. Again, it didn’t seem like we were going to be found.
I focused on staring at the weeds in front of me. I tried counting backwards from 99 to calm and refocus my mind. And then the lights came. They were across the river, but someone had made it to us. I cannot explain how seeing those lights felt. I was hopeful again. They found us. THEY FOUND US. We weren’t alone anymore. And as the realization sat in that someone had arrived, I also heard the sound of the helicopter approaching on my side of the river. The sweet sweet sweet sound of help arriving. I cannot begin to explain the huge relief and the hysterical release of tears knowing we weren’t alone and would soon be on our way out of HELL.
I was given pain relief and a warm blanket immediately, strapped to a stretcher, and loaded in to the helicopter to head to Bozeman Deaconess. It was an eerily beautiful flight through the night over the lit up town of Bozeman, MT. Once at the hospital I was met by 8-12 staff in the ER who treated me with so much care.
About an hour and a half later or so my friends were brought to the ER. They had been treated initially at the attack site but needed more in depth attention by the staff at the hospital. It was very hard to be separated from them not knowing the extent of their injuries and if they were okay or not.
While they were being treated so was I. We all received rabies vaccines (but will still need more rounds) and those who weren’t current received their tetanus shot as well. The wounds on my face were flushed out with saline. Antibiotics and saline were administered through an IV immediately. Around 2:00am I was stitched up on my ankle, leg, arms, hands and fingers. Surgery for my face and ears was scheduled for 4:30am (it had to be a certain time from when I last ate).
My friends were by my side every step of the way when they could be there. My friend’s husband was at the hospital the whole time, going back and forth between all three rooms to be with us. My poor husband received a phone call in the middle of the night that he never wanted to get, while being far away in Maryland for a fire fighter training class. My parents woke to a message from the hospital with hardly any details other than their daughter was in the ER and headed into surgery. What a traumatic experience for us all.
Around 5:00 am I went into my surgery. What was supposed to be a two hour surgery turned out to be almost five. I was in great hands though and it went very well from what I’ve been told. Coming out of the anesthesia went well but was very difficult, too. I’ve never been ‘out’ for a surgery before! But all of my wounds were scrubbed clean and hundreds of stitches were sewn to bring me back together. I was truly in the great hands of an amazing oral surgeon.
When I made it to my recovery room my parents had already arrived to the hospital with my son. They were able to come in once I was settled. It was a moment I will never forget. And I don’t think they will either.
I had amazing staff through every single step of this f*cked up journey. My nurse Andi, through all of my recovery, was an angel and I am so incredibly thankful to her for her kindness and sense of humor and amazing care-taking skills. She even washed my hair and offered to braid it when I asked if she could help me wipe out the matted blood that served as a horrible reminder of what happened. What a blessing she was to me for the hours we spent together in that hospital room.
Jeff booked the first flight out of Maryland and landed about 3:30pm. My dad picked him up and after grabbing my prescriptions from the pharmacy they came to see me. Being able to see my husband after everything was another moment I will never forget. To touch him, hold his hand, look in to his eyes, and hear him say “I love you” felt like an eternity of waiting. But it was worth it. He has been a wonderful nurse at home, keeping my wounds with plenty of ointment on them, setting alarms even in the middle of the night to administer all my meds, cleaning each wound twice a day, taking care of our almost two year old son, picking up the house, helping me dress, etc etc.
I have more stitches in my body than I can count. Besides my face, I have puncture wounds to my left ankle, both legs, back of my right thigh, both arms, both hands, and all fingers. My left ear is split in half from the top to the bottom and is being held together with some kind of yellow bandage and stitches on both sides. I have lost almost half of my right ear. But I am lucky, and I am grateful, and I am alive.
I’d like to thank all of the agencies that responded, including the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Jefferson Valley EMS, Jefferson Valley Search and Rescue, Whitehall Fire, Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana Highway Patrol, Life Flight and the local property owner that showed up to search with your dog, whoever you may be. In addition, all of the staff of Bozeman Deaconess in the Emergency Department, the OR, and everyone involved in the recovery after, especially my angel, Andi. To Dr. Maurer at Bozeman Oral Surgery for piecing my face and ears back together- you’ve done incredible work so far.
A HUGE thank you to Dylan and Dani for sending dinner last night to my family. To my friends who have asked and are bringing us meals these next few nights. For every well wish that has been sent through text or phone or messenger.
To my two girlfriends: I love you both so much. I am so sorry this happened. I pray we are all able to get through the trauma and bad images and bad memories that are going through all of our heads right now. I pray for speedy recoveries for you both, and that your mind, bodies, and souls will find peace soon.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you everyone for all of the love and support received. My family and I are incredibly grateful to so many people and are blown away by the kindness given, but also by the brutality of comments being made on social media by people who don’t know what happened. It’s shocking and is incredibly hurtful to read some of these things, but at the end of the day I have to remember that it’s easy to be a critic. It’s a lot harder to have compassion and grace for others these days it seems.
So to those that have been kind, y’all are rock stars and I love you. To those who choose to criticize and victim blame, there is a special place for you. I hope you try to lean towards compassion instead of such cruelty, but only you can make that choice for yourself.
A friend of the family launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $6,500 to help Royce pay her medical bills.