Cincinnati Police launch probe into family of child who fell into zoo’s gorilla enclosure

© Cincinnati Zoo
Police say they will launch an investigation into the actions of the parents of a three-year-old boy who fell into the gorilla enclosure at Cincinnati Zoo, which prompted zookeepers to kill an endangered animal to protect the child.

The authorities who are conducting the probe want to focus on what the parents were doing up until the accident occurred. However, the zoo will not be investigated, as it falls under the jurisdiction of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Cincinnati Police Department said in a statement. 

"We are closely reviewing the facts of the case," the police department said in a Tweet. 

Cincinnati police have yet to charge anyone following the incident, though they are taking a second look to see if such a move is necessary. 

"Once their investigation is concluded, they will confer with our office on possible criminal charges," Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters said in a statement. 

The family has been widely criticized on social media for failing to keep an eye on the child. An online petition on Change.org, which is calling for “Cincinnati Zoo, Hamilton County Child Protection Services, and Cincinnati Police Department hold the parents responsible,” has already attracted over 430,000 signatures. 

The family at the center of the controversy is refusing to speak to the media, though they did release a statement on Wednesday saying their boy, who is confirmed to be three-years-old and not the previously-reported four, was “doing well.” 

"We continue to praise God for His grace and mercy, and to be thankful to the Cincinnati Zoo for their actions taken to protect our child," the family said, as cited by Cincinnati.com. "We are also very appreciative for the expressions of concern and support that have been sent to us. Some have offered money to the family, which we do not want and will not accept.” 

Criminal law Professor Ric Simmons from Ohio State University told the AP that it would be difficult to prove a case of child neglect against the family, as this normally involves a child being left unattended for a lengthy period of time.

"The mother was standing next to a zoo exhibit and lost track of her child for perhaps a minute or so," Simmons said. "That has happened to almost every parent in the world in a public place." 

The incident occurred on Saturday, when the boy fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. 

There were three gorillas at the area at the time – two females and one male, a western lowland gorilla called Harambe, who had turned 17 only a day earlier. The females were recalled immediately into their quarters, but the male stayed in the yard with the child. 

The 180kg ape did not seem to be hurting the youngster, but staff at the zoo decided they were not going to take any chances and killed the gorilla, saying that a tranquilizer dart could have agitated the ape and would have taken around 10 minutes to take effect. 

“The Zoo security team’s quick response saved the child’s life. We are all devastated that this tragic accident resulted in the death of a critically-endangered gorilla,” Zoo Director Thane Maynard said in a statement. “This is a huge loss for the Zoo family and the gorilla population worldwide.”