Mother of Boy in Gorilla Exhibit Will Not Be Charged

CINCINNATI (AP) -
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters at a press conference on Monday in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters at a press conference on Monday in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

No charges will be filed against the mother of a 3-year-old boy who got into the Cincinnati Zoo’s gorilla exhibit, resulting in the shooting of an endangered gorilla to protect him.

On Monday, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said the child’s mother had three other children with her at the zoo ranging in age from 1 to 7, and she was attending to them when the 3-year-old “just scampered off” on May 28. He said children’s services made a visit to the boy and mother, and social workers were impressed by the child’s environment.

Deters said the mother’s actions were “not even close” to meriting reckless endangerment charges, and he defended the mother as an attentive parent undeserving of the sharp criticism and threats.

The mother had turned away “for a few seconds” to attend to one of her children when the boy took off.

“If anyone doesn’t believe a 3-year-old can scamper off very quickly, they’ve never had kids. Because they can. And they do,” Deters said.

In a statement, the family said it was pleased with the decision.

“This is one more step in allowing us to put this tragic episode behind us and return to our normal family,” the statement said.

The zoo plans to reopen its Gorilla World on Tuesday with a higher, reinforced barrier. Zoo spokeswoman Michelle Curley said the barrier will now be 42 inches high – a half-foot taller than before – with solid wood beams on top and at the bottom, plus knotted rope netting at the bottom.

The zoo said that there had been no earlier breaches in Gorilla World’s 38-year history and that the previous barrier had passed multiple inspections by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which accredits zoos.

The boy apparently climbed over the outer barrier before falling some 15 feet into a shallow moat. A special response team shot and killed the 17-year-old western lowland gorilla named Harambe to protect the boy.

The zoo’s role will be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which enforces the Animal Welfare Act. An animal protection watchdog group has urged that the zoo face federal fines.

The shooting caused a wide outpouring of criticism, blaming the boy’s parents or the zoo for the gorilla death.

Deters said he has been “a bit taken aback” by the reaction to the gorilla’s death. He said the zoo suffered a great loss, “but it is still animal. It does not equate with human life. And they felt that this boy’s life was in jeopardy and they made the painful choice to do what they did.”

Cincinnati police said some of the online posts contained threatening language such as “shoot the mother.” Family spokeswoman Gail Myers said they “are taking appropriate precautions.”

A Cincinnati police report identified the boy’s mother as Michelle Gregg, 32, who works at a preschool near Cincinnati. The child’s father isn’t named in the report, and it’s not clear whether he was at the zoo that day.

The boy’s family has said he is doing well at home. Police said he had scrapes on his head and knee, but was alert and talking when rescued.

Police released 911 tapes of calls after the boy fell.

“He’s dragging my son! I can’t watch this!” a woman says in the 911 call, pleading for help. She shouts at her son repeatedly: “Be calm!”

A record of police calls shows nine minutes passed between the first emergency call about the boy falling into the enclosure and when the child was safe.

The police report states that witnesses said the gorilla initially appeared to be protecting the child, but after onlookers started screaming, it became “agitated and scared” and began dragging the child.

The boy’s family has expressed gratitude to the zoo for protecting his life.