MARCOLA, Ore. - A man said he saw a cougar just a few feet away from his kid's grade school playground Wednesday, and the big cat may have been spotted two more times Thursday.
Richard McLaughlin was visiting his daughter and his wife, a teacher at Marcola Elementary, at around the time when the school breaks for lunch. It was on his walk to the school that he said he saw a cougar in a wooded area behind the school's back fence.
He immediately told school officials, who moved the kids to an enclosed playground on the other side of the building. McLaughlin said he then called Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"That's one thing Fish and Wildlife says: a cougar isn't out that time of day," McLaughlin said. "But I know what I saw. I've seen many of them, and they always have the same effect on me. They startle me, make the hair stand up on the back of my neck."
Chris Yee with ODFW confirmed that someone reported seeing cougar by the fence on Wednesday. Since that first report, Yee said he has received many other neighbors reporting cougars.
Principal Ira Wier said school officials received one report Wednesday before noon and two reports Thursday morning of cougar sightings near the school.
Students are being kept in a protected playground outdoors as a precaution. Parents have been notified.
ODFW brought out a "sniffer" dog to investigate the sightings, but could not confirm the cougar's presence on Thursday.
Parents like Jerry Smith told KVAL News that this isn't the first time that they've heard reports of cougars near Marcola Elementary.
"They'll see it and have the school locked down and stuff," Smith said. "So we get letters every now and then telling when there's sightings, so I'm not too worried about it."
Jheremy Garnick lives near Marcola Elementary and said that he's not too surprised to hear about the sighting.
"It's not too safe but it's not too worrisome either. I just go up there with a stick and make a lot of noise and they usually stay away," Garnick said.