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Canadian folk singer torn apart by coyotes on solo hike

Freak attack raises fears over animals that normally keep away from humans

A promising young folk singer was killed by a pair of coyotes after she went hiking alone on a popular trail in one of eastern Canada's national parks, police have revealed.

Taylor Mitchell, a 19-year-old performer from Toronto, was on tour to promote her debut album. She was using a day off on Tuesday to go walking when she encountered the normally harmless animals.

Fellow walkers heard her screaming for help soon after the animals began attacking, and swiftly called emergency services to the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton National Park, Nova Scotia. Ms Mitchell was airlifted to hospital after emergency treatment on the ground, but died from her injuries the following day. The coyotes responsible for the attack were fired on by armed members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. One of them escaped unharmed, the other disappeared into the wilderness after apparently being wounded in the leg.

Wildlife officials are now scouring the surrounding area in an effort to find and destroy the animals, which are usually reclusive. They are anxious to determine what caused them to mount such an apparently audacious attack, in broad daylight.

"There's been some reports of aggressive animals in the past, so it's not unknown," said Helene Robichaud, the park's superintendent, who is co-ordinating the search and has blocked the entrance to the popular trail. "But we certainly never have encountered anything so dramatic and tragic."

The freak incident has raised widespread public concern. Coyotes, also known as prairie wolves, are as commonly found across northern America as foxes are in the UK.

Athough they often kill domestic cats and small farm animals, the animals – roughly the size of a small Labrador – usually keep their distance from humans and are rarely considered a threat to human safety.

Ms Mitchell, who released her debut album For Your Consideration in March, was on a national tour. Earlier this year, she had been nominated as Young Performer of the Year in the Canadian Folk Music Awards.

Her MySpace page described her as "a bohemian rodeo star who grew up reading E E Ccummings and listening to Led Zeppelin". By a somewhat grim coincidence, it is illustrated with a photo of her standing in remote woodland, with a guitar in her hand.

"Taylor was just exhilarated to be on the road and performing. We are all devastated," her manager Lisa Weitz told the Toronto Star. "She loved the woods, and being out with nature. Words can't begin to express the sadness and tragedy of losing such a sweet, compassionate, vibrant, and phenomenally talented young woman. She just turned 19 two months ago, and was so excited about the future."

Mitchell was only a short distance into the six-mile trail when she was mauled at around 3.15pm on Tuesday, said police spokesman Bridgit Ledger. "The coyotes were extremely aggressive," she said, describing it as "incredibly vicious attack" which left the victim bleeding heavily.