Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald Oct. 2, 2003.

A mountain lion ran wild through a west Omaha commercial district Wednesday, turning Nebraska Humane Society workers, police officers and zoo officials into big-game hunters.

The male lion was captured not far from 114th Street and West Dodge Road — the busiest intersection in Omaha — after Henry Doorly Zoo Director Lee Simmons shot the animal in the shoulder with a tranquilizer dart.

Before the tranquilizer fully took effect, a police officer fired his 12-gauge shotgun at the animal as it headed toward him, wounding the cat in the left leg.

A few minutes later, about 1 p.m., the animal collapsed and zoo workers were able to capture it and take it to the zoo.

The first sighting of the mountain lion came shortly before 11 a.m. next to Interstate 680. Two state Roads Department surveyors were working alongside an entrance ramp west of the Interstate when the animal jumped out of a pile of brush about 10 feet from Aaron Hough.

"It's a fox, but it's a big one," Hough's coworker Joel Jordan said.

"That's a cougar," Hough said.

The two men watched as the cat leaped over a fence and ran across a parking lot toward the Hewlett-Packard building at 10810 Farnam Drive.

HP Customer Service Manager Robyn Reynoso was getting up from her desk when the creature slammed into her window, clawing at the glass.

"I screamed really loud," Reynoso said.

The lion seemed to be attacking its reflection in the glass, Reynoso said later as she surveyed the scratches and paw smudges on the window.

After a few seconds, the lion ambled off to the west. He apparently crossed the Big Papillion Creek and the nearby recreational trail and headed up a creek branch to near 114th and Davenport Streets.

As the cat loped along, calls poured in to police. Police called the zoo and the Nebraska Humane Society for help.

They set up a perimeter near the creek branch. Humane Society workers and police officers started at the west end of the creek, while zoo officials and police started at the east.

The two groups moved toward each other.

A Humane Society worker spotted the animal in the brush and took the first shot with a tranquilizer handgun, but missed.

Simmons said he shot a tranquilizer dart as he stood 30 yards away from the cat, which was in heavy brush along the creek bank. The zoo director hit the animal's right shoulder.

Simmons estimated that seven minutes passed before the lion emerged from brush. When it did, it surprised people, including the police officer who fired the shotgun.

Omaha police said Officer James Hasiak heard the big cat coming, fired one shot and rolled on the ground out of the way. Hasiak strained a rotator cuff when he rolled, police said.

The cat veered in another direction before collapsing.

Simmons said that by the time the cat had emerged from the brush and the officer fired, the drug would have taken away the cat's fear and anger.

"There was no aggression there," he said. "But the officer didn't know that."

At the zoo late Wednesday afternoon, Simmons knelt beside the mountain lion in an interior cage, where the cat was still in a tranquilizer-induced stupor.

Simmons stroked the cat on the back of the head. The cat's head lolled.

"He's drunk," Simmons said.

Green antibiotic ointment covered a large swath of torn flesh where shotgun pellets had struck the mountain lion.

"Well, he got really lucky," Simmons said of the animal.

It appeared that the pellets had largely grazed the cat. Simmons said an X-ray today will show whether any pellets are lodged in the animal's muscular left flank.

"Oh, he's very healthy," said Simmons, who estimated that the cat weighs 80 pounds and is 1½ years old.

Simmons said the mountain lion would be kept at the zoo until it is fully healed.

Saying there was no way he could be sure, Simmons speculated that the mountain lion was pushed out of its territory and entered Omaha from the north or west.

Once in the city, the animal evidently began following Big Papillion Creek, Simmons said, and probably ate rabbits and possibly small dogs.

The big cat's romp drew plenty of attention in the area, which largely features office parks, restaurants and other commercial buildings. There also are some recreational facilities, including the trail, a park and some areas used for sports.

It also prompted plenty of anecdotes and one-liners.

"If he hadn't been trying to pet it, it wouldn't have gotten so mad," Jordan joked about his fellow surveyor.

As word of the mountain lion spread, it sparked interest and concern.

Nearby Crestridge Magnet School, 818 Crestridge Road, kept students inside for recess until the cat was captured, said Luanne Nelson, an Omaha Public Schools spokeswoman.

Students at St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic School were briefly pulled off the school playground about 12:30 p.m. A parent had called the school after hearing on the radio about the big cat.

Principal David Peters let them return 15 minutes later, after the Douglas County Sheriff's Office told him the cat was captured well northeast of the school's location at 16701 S St.

Humane Society investigator Jay Wilson said he and police have received numerous calls of mountain lions on the loose in Omaha but have learned to greet them with some skepticism.

Until Wednesday, every call turned out to be a bobcat or a big dog and a caller with an overactive imagination.

"We'll be taking these a little more seriously now," Wilson said.

World-Herald staff writers Todd von Kampen and Paul Goodsell and photographer Jeff Bundy contributed to this report.

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Reporter - Politics/Washington D.C.

Joseph Morton is The World-Herald Washington Bureau Chief. Morton joined The World-Herald in 1999 and has been reporting from Washington for the newspaper since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @MortonOWH. Email:joseph.morton@owh.com

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