The Cincinnati Herald Staff (The Cincinnati Herald, NNPA Member)
The family of a 3-year-old boy who fell into a Cincinnati Zoo gorilla’s compound Saturday, is being investigated by Cincinnati police in connection with the incident, according to a statement released by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters Tuesday. The zoo response team shot and killed the gorilla with a rifle in order to rescue the child.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), an accrediting agency, announced that it was investigating the episode. “We’ll of course be taking a closer look at that working with Cincinnati to figure out what happened and make sure we can firm that up so it doesn’t happen again,” said Rob Vernon, spokesman for the AZA.
On Saturday, May 28, Harambe, a 17-year-old, 450-pound, western lowland silverback gorilla, dragged the 3-year-old Isaiah Gregg, across a moat. After a 10-minute encounter, Cincinnati Zoo officials shot the endangered gorilla. The boy was not seriously injured, according to reports from the Cincinnati Fire Department, which transported him to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for observation.
The boy went under a rail, through wires and over a moat wall to get into the enclosure, according to the zoo. Footage shot by a witness shows Harambe dragging the child through the water, as the clamor of the crowd grows louder. Isaiah’s mom can be heard telling her son to “stay calm” and, “Mommy loves you.”
Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard said he stands by the decision of the response team to kill 17-year-old silverback Harambe to save the child. Critics asked why the response team did not tranquilize rather than kill the gorilla.
Those who are second-guessing the call “don’t understand silverback gorillas,” Maynard said in a news conference, explaining that the tranquilizer’s effects are not instantaneous. Moreover, the gorilla’s behavior while the tranquilizer was taking effect would be unpredictable. Maynard added, “You can’t take a risk with a silverback gorilla – this is a dangerous animal. Looking back, we’d make the same decision. The child is safe.”
Michelle Gregg, the mother of the boy, defended herself in a now-deleted Facebook post, writing: “God protected my child until the authorities were able to get to him. My son is safe and was able to walk away with a concussion and a few scrapes… no broken bones or internal injuries.”
Gregg continued, “As a society, we are quick to judge how a parent could take their eyes off of their child and if anyone knows me I keep a tight watch on my kids. Accidents happen….”
Following the incident, the family released a statement via a public relations firm, saying Isaiah is “doing just fine” and offering condolences for the death of Harambe. “We extend our heartfelt thanks for the quick action by the Cincinnati Zoo staff,” the statement read. “We know that this was a very difficult decision for them, and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla.”
On Wednesday, June 1, the woman who took the video of Harambe’s encounter with the boy that has been seen around the world, said in a nationally televised report that the gorilla became more violent with the boy, but she was not in a position to record that activity. One witness, Bruce Davis, told WCPO TV 9 in Cincinnati that he saw the gorilla toss the boy “10 feet in the air, and I saw him land on his back. It was a mess.”
The tragedy happened after the boy told his mother he was going to get into the moat to swim with the gorilla, and the mother admonished him to behave before being distracted by other children with her, Kimberly Ann Perkins O’Connor told CNN. Perkins said she rushed to stop him, but he had fallen before she could reach him.
“The little boy himself had already been talking about wanting to go in, to get in the water and his mother is like, ‘No you’re not, no you’re not,’ ” O’Connor said. “Her attention was drawn away for seconds, maybe a minute, and then he was up and in before you knew it.”
Cincinnati police said Tuesday, May 31 that their review “is only regarding the actions of the parents/family that led up to the incident and not related to the operation or safety of the Cincinnati Zoo,” according to CNN.
The family also expressed gratitude for the support they’ve received. “Some have offered money to the family, which we do not want and will not accept,” the family said. “If anyone wishes to make a gift, we recommend a donation to the Cincinnati Zoo in Harambe’s name.”
CBS News reported the child’s mother has also received death threats.
However, an online petition seeking “Justice for Harambe” earned in less than 48 hours more than 100,000 signatures of people who believe the parents should be held accountable. “This beautiful gorilla lost his life because the boy’s parents did not keep a closer watch on the child,” the petition states.
The zoo announced that it had performed a necropsy on Harambe. One of their research doctors was able to extract and freeze Harambe’s genetic material, but no other details or plans for Harambe’s remains were immediately available, said the zoo’s communications director, Michelle Curley.
On Monday, June 6, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters announced that no charges would be filed against Michelle Gregg.
In a press release about the incident, the Ohio prosecutor called the case a tragic accident and agreed that “the zoo did the right thing when they took immediate action to save the life of a young child.”
“Many people on social media have condemned the mother for not watching her child carefully enough at the zoo. None of the witnesses interviewed described the mother as anything but attentive to her children,” said Deters. “Any parent who is honest with himself or herself would have to understand how this could happen to even the most attentive parent.”
Deters concluded: “I am very sorry about the loss of this gorilla but nothing about this situation rises to the level of a criminal charge.”