Police have said the parents of a four-year-old who climbed into a gorilla’s enclosure could face criminal charges after staff were forced to kill the beloved animal.
Harambe the 400lb gorilla was shot dead by Cincinnati Zoo officials just one day after his 17th birthday when the boy climbed through barriers and fell into the enclosure.
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The incident, which was captured on cell phone, has sparked an outcry of emotion, with thousands of mourners branding it a ‘senseless death’.
Many are placing the blame squarely on the parents of the boy. They are yet to be charged but police said prosecutors could choose to indict them.
Michelle Gregg, the mother of the boy, posted a message on Facebook saying: ‘I want to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers today. What started off as a wonderful day turned into a scary one.
‘For those of you that have seen the news or been on social media that was my son that fell in the gorilla exhibit at the zoo. 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.
‘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 but I am thankful that the right people were in the right place today.’
The family released a statement on Sunday saying they had taken their boy home.
It read: ‘We are so thankful to the Lord that our child is safe. He is home and doing just fine. We extend our heartfelt thanks for the quick action by the Cincinnati Zoo staff.
‘We know that this was a very difficult decision for them, and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla. We hope that you will respect our privacy at this time.’
A mother who was at the zoo said she tried to stop the child from going into the enclosure but couldn’t grab him in time.
Brittany Nicely told WHIO the gorilla was also acting protectively towards the boy and was not behaving in a threatening manner.
‘I tried to prevent it, I tried to grab him and I just couldn’t get to him fast enough,’ she said.
‘What the first responders saw, I’m just not sure… They said he was violently throwing the child around, which seems crazy to me.
‘They have a picture of the boy sitting in front of the gorilla moments before they shot him.’
A day after the incident, she said her kids are traumatized and do not want to go back to the zoo.
Deidre Lykins was also at the zoo when she saw the boy drop into the enclosure.
She described how Ms Gregg was calling out for her son and had just been next to him when he disappeared.
Then she had to stop her husband from going in to try and rescue him. But she insists Ms Gregg is not at fault.
She wrote on Facebook: ‘This was an open exhibit! Which means the only thing separating you from the gorillas, is a 15 ish foot drop and a moat and some bushes!
‘This mother was not negligent and the zoo did an awesome job handling the situation! Especially since that had never happened before!
‘Thankful for the zoo and their attempts and my thoughts and prayers goes out to this boy, his mother and his family.’
More than 2,000 people have already signed a Change.org petition calling for the boy’s parents to be ‘held accountable for their actions of not supervising their child’ – and slamming the zoo for putting Harambe down.
The child said he wanted to go in the water moments before the incident, eyewitness Kim O’Connor said.
Ms Gregg, who was also watching several other children, is said to have replied: ‘No, you’re not, no, you’re not.’
The zoo’s animal response team assessed the ‘life-threatening situation’ and defended their decision to shoot Harambe rather than tranquilize him, but thousands took to social media to call it a ‘murder’.
O’Connor told WLWT she heard the boy talking about getting into the water before she heard a splash, followed by frantic yelling when onlookers realized he was inside the enclosure.
Chilling footage showed Harambe picking up the boy and dragging him through the water, but more graphic portions were cut from the video.
According to O’Connor, the gorilla looked like he was trying to protect the boy from panicked bystanders who may have aggravated the tense situation.
She said: ‘I don’t know if the screaming did it or too many people hanging on the edge, if he thought we were coming in, but then he pulled the boy down away further from the big group.’
In the video that emerged on Saturday, a woman can be heard yelling, ‘Mommy’s right here… mommy loves you’, before adding, ‘Isaiah be calm’, when the boy started crying.
Director Thane Maynard supported the zoo’s dangerous animal response team for their decision to put down the gorilla.
‘They made a tough choice and they made the right choice because they saved that little boy’s life,’ Maynard said.
But outraged animal lovers took to social media declaring the western lowland gorilla’s life was unnecessarily taken, and more than 3,000 have already joined the Facebook group Justice for Harambe.
While some defended the parents, many others were less sympathetic.
One Twitter user wrote: ‘So a beautiful, innocent gorilla has to die because neglectful parents can’t control their kids? Mankind sucks #Harambe #CincinnatiZoo’
Another user Chris Dasauchoit tweeted: ‘Beautiful animals sadly paying for utter human stupidity and negligence with their lives. #Harame #CincinnatiZoo.’
Zoo officials said three gorillas were in the enclosure when the boy fell in the moat, but the two female gorillas were called out immediately.
According to Maynard, the gorilla did not appear to be attacking the child, but he described it as ‘an extremely strong animal in an agitated situation’.
‘You’re talking about an animal that’s over 400 pounds and extremely strong. So no, the child wasn’t under attack but all sorts of things could happen in a situation like that. He certainly was at risk,’ he told WLWT.
According to a fire department incident report, the gorilla was ‘violently dragging and throwing the child’, who was between Harambe’s legs when the gorilla was shot, WLWT reported.
Maynard explained that tranquilizing the gorilla would not have knocked it out immediately, leaving the boy in danger.
The child was taken to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center with serious but ‘non-life threatening’ injuries following the incident, which was reported around 4pm.
This article originally appeared on the Daily Mail.