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Rare coyote attack claims rising singer-songwriter

A photo of Taylor Mitchell from her Facebook page.

If a career in folk music hadn't come along, Taylor Mitchell might have spent the day training horses in Ontario, not walking a sun-kissed seaside trail between gigs in Nova Scotia.

Life is unpredictable that way, and Ms. Mitchell, a rising young talent with the voice of an old soul, seemed to know it, though she was just 19.

As such, no one could have foreseen the fate that awaited the Toronto singer-songwriter along Cape Breton's Skyline Trail on Tuesday: a pair of raging coyotes, out for her blood.

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Within moments, Ms. Mitchell lay dying, leaving a trail of grieving relatives, friends and fans, along with puzzled wildlife officials shocked by such a rare attack. One of the animals was shot and injured, but both were still at large.

"This wouldn't even be considered a yearly event," said Germaine LeMoine, a spokeswoman for Parks Canada, which oversees the seven-kilometre trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. "It's extremely rare in the history of the park."

Just as rare, according to those who knew her, was Ms. Mitchell's gift for imbuing songs with a wisdom beyond her years. Her debut album, For Your Consideration, was recorded with backing from an array of veteran roots-music luminaries, and had recently earned her a Canadian Folk Music Award nomination.

Taylor Mitchell performance

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"When we were in the studio she really held her own, she kept her cool and she soared to a place that we all were in awe of," said Skydiggers keyboardist Michael Johnston, who produced the album over several recording sessions in 2008. "We all would sort of whisper to one another, 'Imagine being so confident and so imaginative at such a young age,' with maybe a tiny hint of jealousy in there."

Mr. Johnston, who teaches music, met Ms. Mitchell when she approached him for vocal training at age 15. They soon began to write songs, and recently, she too began teaching at Mr. Johnston's home studio. Ms. Mitchell became, in effect, a member of Mr. Johnston's family, babysitting for him and his wife and visiting regularly.

"She was able to carry a great excitement about everything that she did, in every part of her life," which included a love of animals, particularly horses, he said.

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Colin Linden, a veteran Canadian roots performer and producer who works with Nashville artists, was similarly struck after Ms. Mitchell opened for him at an intimate show Sept. 10 at a small venue in Pickering, Ont. It was their first and only meeting.

"She was really talented, she was really smart and she was a really good-hearted person," Mr. Linden said from Winnipeg. "I thought she was one of those people who was going to be a lifer, a musician for a long, long time."

A 19-year-old Toronto woman has died from her injuries, the day after being attacked by two coyotes at a national park in Cape Breton

Once a Toronto prodigy himself, Mr. Linden, 49, has mentored and produced several emerging artists since. After a post-performance chat with Ms. Mitchell, over chocolate cake and Earl Grey tea, he left feeling he would work with her again.

"I found that she had a whole lot of charisma, which is a great thing," he said. "It's something you can't teach and you can't buy."

Saskatoon-born Suzie Vinnick, a Toronto-based singer, met Ms. Mitchell three years ago through Mr. Johnston. Ms. Vinnick, 20 years her senior, was studying guitar and became fast friends with Ms. Mitchell and her mother, Emily.

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"She just radiated positivity," Ms. Vinnick said, adding that she last saw Ms. Mitchell less than two weeks ago, at a roadside service station east of Toronto. Both women were en route to the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals annual conference in Ottawa.

"She was driving her new car; she had recently got her licence and was really stoked because she was heading out on tour after the conference," Ms. Vinnick said. "It's so ironic that nature would steal her away from us in this way."

Arthur McGregor, an Ottawa-based director of the Canadian Folk Music Awards, said he spoke to Ms. Mitchell's mother by phone on Tuesday at about 3 p.m. "They were very excited about the nomination and were planning on attending the awards," Mr. McGregor said.

He had earlier tried to reach Ms. Mitchell by e-mail, but "her mother said Taylor was out on the Cabot Trail and no one could get in touch with her."

At about 3:15 p.m., officials said, hikers on the trail behind Ms. Mitchell heard her cries for help, but it was too late.

"I will forever see her smile; she was so excited about life and so positive," Ms. Vinnick said, "and I'm really going to miss her."

With a report from Stuart Patterson

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