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‘Mommy loves you!’: Little boy rescued after gorilla is shot

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    A child touches the head of a gorilla statue where flowers have been placed outside the Gorilla World exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden Sunday.

CINCINNATI >> Panicked zoo visitors watched helplessly and shouted, “Stay calm!” while one woman yelled, “Mommy loves you!” as a 400-pound-plus gorilla loomed over a 4-year-old boy who had fallen into a shallow moat at the Cincinnati Zoo.

The boy sat still in the water, looking up at the gorilla as the animal touched the child’s hand and back. At one point, it looked as though the gorilla helped the youngster stand up.

Two witnesses said they thought the gorilla was trying to protect the boy at first before getting spooked by the screams of onlookers. The animal then picked the child up out of the moat and dragged him to another spot inside the exhibit, zoo officials said.

Fearing for the boy’s life, the zoo’s dangerous-animal response team shot and killed the 17-year-old ape, named Harambe.

The child, whose name was not released, was released from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center on Saturday night, hours after the fall.

His family said in a statement Sunday that the boy was home and doing 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,” the family said.

Zoo Director Thane Maynard said the gorilla didn’t appear to be attacking the child but was “an extremely strong” animal in an agitated situation. He said tranquilizing the gorilla wouldn’t have knocked it out immediately, leaving the boy in danger.

“They made a tough choice and they made the right choice because they saved that little boy’s life,” Maynard said.

Zoo officials said the 4-year-old climbed through a barrier at the Gorilla World exhibit and dropped 15 feet into the moat Saturday afternoon. He was in there for about 10 minutes. Two female gorillas also were in the enclosure.

The two females complied with calls from zoo staff to leave the exhibit, but Harambe stayed, Maynard said.

Witness Kim O’Connor said she heard the boy say he wanted to get in the water with the gorillas. She said the boy’s mother was with several other young children.

“The mother’s like, ‘No, you’re not. No, you’re not,’” O’Connor told WLWT-TV.

O’Connor shared video she and her family recorded of the boy and Harambe. The two appear in a corner of the exhibit while visitors yell, “Somebody call the zoo!” and “Mommy’s right here!” The station did not air portions of the video showing the gorilla dragging the boy.

Another woman said that just before the boy fell, she saw him in bushes beyond a fence around the exhibit.

“I tried to grab for him. I started yelling at him to come back,” Brittany Nicely told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “Everybody started screaming and going crazy. It happened so fast.”

Zoo staff cleared the area and visitors heard gunfire a few minutes later. Firefighters then rushed into the enclosure and picked up the boy.

Lt. Steve Saunders, a Cincinnati police spokesman, said there are no plans to charge the parents.

Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the zoo should have had a second barrier around the exhibit.

“Even under the ‘best’ circumstances, captivity is never acceptable for gorillas or other primates, and in cases like this, it’s even deadly,” PETA said.

The exhibit opened nearly 40 years ago, and this was the first breach, the zoo said.

Maynard called the killing a tragic death of a critically endangered species and a huge loss for the zoo and the gorilla population worldwide. The gorilla came to Cincinnati in 2015 from the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas.

Visitors left flowers at a gorilla statue Sunday. Gorilla World remained closed, but the rest of the zoo was open.

One father said he was shocked that the boy was able to get past the fence and bushes that surround the exhibit. He expects the zoo will take a close at it.

“They probably thought the moat and the fence was good enough,” said Alex Salcedo. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like it was if a 4-year-old can get through.”

Comments (37)

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  • poor gorilla. and poor boy too for having such careless, irresponsible parents. hope that boy’s good luck continues as he’s going to need it with parents like that.

        • klastri spends more time banned from posting than anybody. He lives a very sad and loney existence.

        • “klastri spends more time banned from posting than anybody.”

          Really? When?

          “Uh… All the time. You know.”

        • The fact that no visible action is taken by what passes as moderation for this site is not surprising. For example, look to all the (almost weekly) unchallenged comments advocating homosexual prison rape as a just punishment. If such comments are tacitly approved by the Star-Advertiser and our fellow readers, then really, what can you expect as to the quality of the participants here?

        • klastri: That’s sort of what I thought. Unless you’ve managed to be banned by the day — or, maybe the hour.

    • I might agree with you but it would not be politically correct to do so. The point is the parents don’t give a rip,about their child and if it is not climbing over and through protective fences, this child will most likely get killed playing in a busy road or falling over a balcony or into a swimming pool or river with no supervision and the fate of this child does NOT change, even after killing this rare and majestic animal that did NOT hurt the baby. If the Gorilla, before it was before it was shot and killed wanted to harm or kill the baby when it fell into the enclosure, the baby would have already been dead long before the zoo response team ever got a chance to kill the gorilla. A 400 lb male gorilla is about 3-4 times stronger than the strongest and biggest NFL player and would not last 10 seconds with this gorilla if he was bent on inflicting harm to a person or child.

      • You might agree that it’s OK to let a child die? That’s not being politically incorrect. It’s called being profoundly mentally ill.

        • I commend your concern for children, and I hope it translates into financially combating poor nutrition worldwide, which estimates claim cause over 20000 deaths daily.

  • On the surface some things here don’t quite add up. If the gorilla presented a clear headshot to a rifleman, then the child could not have been held closely by the gorilla at the time, nor would the child have likely been in physical contact. Still, I agree that excited and noisy members of the public may have been a serious distraction that forced the response team to choose the most expedient solution.

    If the three-year-old child actually squeezed through a permanent barrier, then an immediate redesign is in order and the exhibit should not be permitted to “open as usual on Sunday.”

    The worst possible addition to this story would be if we were to find out later the parents contributed to the emergency by holding the child up over the barrier so he could get a better view.

  • So they kill the gorilla because the kid’s parents failed to watch their kid? Not fair. They should have shot the boy’s parents at the same time.

    • Totally agree. 7.4 BILLION humans on this planet, most of them morons like this kid’s parents. Just a few thousand gorillas. We can afford to have fewer humans, not fewer gorillas.

  • The gorilla could have been a savior instead of a threat! We will never know! The child is ok at the cost of the life of an endangered animal!

    • Anyone can be a father or mother, but in this case obviously this doesn’t make you a “parent”. Too often parents are distracted, lack the skills, or as I suspect in majority of cases lack the common sense when taking their children on outings.

      As Wizard said we will now never know if the gorilla was trying to help the child. Why are so many incidents happening at zoos? Why do people feel the urge to go take selfies beyond the barriers. In this case the parents should be charged with negligence.

      I wondered the same thing as Delta – how did they get a shot off or even multiple shots if the child was in so close proximity of the gorilla?

  • Close down the zoo’s already. These animals are caught from the wild and dropped into a concrete box so that humans can watch it make dodo. Now they kill it because it posed a threat. Sounds like the police when they shoot someone 150 times because they felt threatened.

  • The gorilla did nothing wrong but is killed because the parents did not contain their child. The zoo also should not have a display where someone could enter it on purpose or accidentally. Condolences to the gorilla and auwe to the parents.

  • How absolutely sad for an animal to be killed in this manner. If the gorilla had retreated to the furthest corner of its cage, it would’ve been spared. But there’s no way that the animal could’ve known that. Maybe it was trying to protect the child. I agree that the parents should pay for the animal’s replacement, which could run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

  • These parents are not only idiots by not taking extreme care of this child, but what is worst besides the gorilla getting killed is that these parents will probably be hiring a lawyer & suing the zoo. We should have laws so the zoo can sue the parents for all cost associated with this scenario. But it’s always going to be the zoo’s fault.

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