That’s why the attack by a mountain lion on 5-year-old Laura Small in an Orange County park in March 1986 was so unexpected. That attack, and her family’s ordeal over the following years, is told in a fascinating first-person, diary-like format in the book “Out of the Lion’s Den” by the child’s mother, Susan Mattern.
Little Laura was standing in a small creek with her mom in Casper’s Park, innocently looking for tadpoles. When they were looking down, back to back, the lion struck. From out of nowhere it swiftly grabbed the child by the head and dragged her into the brush.
The events that followed were, as you would expect, frantic. At first, the mother was confused. When she turned, her baby was gone! A man — a passerby — grabbed a stick and went after the cougar. The big cat dropped its prey, growled and disappeared into the bush. The man then scooped up the mangled, bleeding child and headed for the park office.
After numerous surgeries, the child survived, but has been handicapped throughout her life.
Soon after the incident, Laura’s father heard a park employee say they (the park administration and rangers) knew about the mountain lion in that area but did not warn park visitors. Instead, they handed each entering group a pamphlet that warned: “The most dangerous form of wildlife in the park — poison oak.”
The rest of the book involves the family’s lawsuit against the county and its daily struggles, surgeries, hospital stays and doctor visits.
There is also a religious theme to the 300-page book. The mother — a pianist, a high school teacher and music director for a large church — had been a nun for six years. Yet she continuously wrestles with her faith, wondering how God could allow such a horrible thing to happen to her child.
The element of suspense: Will the child’s superstar attorney be able to win their headline-making case against Orange County?