No charges will be brought against the mother of a boy who got into the gorilla exhibit at Cincinnati Zoo, a prosecutor has announced, saying the three-year-old “just scampered off”.
The shooting of a gorilla that was dragging the child through a moat on May 28 set off a torrent of criticism online, with some attacking the zoo for the animal’s death and others blaming the mother for not watching her child more closely.
Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters said the case did not come close to warranting a charge of child endangerment, and he defended the mother as an attentive parent undeserving of such sharp criticism.
He said the mother had three other children with her at the zoo and had turned away “for a few seconds” to attend to one when the boy took off.
“If anyone doesn’t believe a three-year-old can scamper off very quickly, they’ve never had kids. Because they can. And they do,” Deters said.
Legal experts had said all along that child endangerment charges were unlikely under such circumstances, which Deters echoed in his ruling.
He said: “If she had been in the bathroom smoking crack, that would be a different story. But that’s not what happened here.”
He said the mother was there with her four children, ranging in age from one to seven, and was also with a friend with her own two sons.
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 (an) 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”.
The boy apparently climbed over a 3ft barrier, made his way through bushes and fell 15ft into a shallow moat.
The zoo’s dangerous-animal response team shot the 17-year-old gorilla, Harambe, after concluding the boy’s life was in danger.
In a statement, the boy’s family said it was pleased with the decision, adding: “This is one more step in allowing us to put this tragic episode behind us and return to our normal family.”
The zoo plans to reopen its Gorilla World on Tuesday with a higher, reinforced barrier. Deters said he was glad to see the improvements.