After tens of thousands of people signed a petition on Change.org calling for investigation of the parents of the 4-year-old boy who fell into Harambe the gorilla’s enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, forcing zoo authorities to shoot the gorilla, police have reportedly said they are investigating to decide whether to charge the parents for child neglect.
According to the Independent, Cincinnati police said on Sunday that Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney could decide to charge the parents after investigations have been completed.
Animal rights campaigners and animal lovers had expressed outrage on social media and accused the boy’s parents of negligence.
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) May 29, 2016
— Amber Soler (@Amber_Soler) May 29, 2016
They argued that the parents should be held responsible for losing sight of the child and causing the wrongful death of Harambe, a western lowland gorilla, classified as endangered.
The boy apparently crawled through railing and fell more than 10 feet into the moat below.
A witness, Kim O’Connor, told reporters that before the boy fell into the enclosure, she heard him saying to his mother that he wanted to enter the moat, but his mother said, “No.”
Poor Harambe. Killed in cold blood for someone else's fault. pic.twitter.com/dHFVj6cK56
— Gautam Trivedi (@Gotham3) May 30, 2016
An animal response team at the zoo shot Harambe dead a day after his 17th birthday and rescued the boy. He was taken to the hospital, reportedly with “serious” but “non-life threatening” injuries.
Although footage (see below) shows the gorilla grabbing the boy in the moat, handling him roughly and dragging him violently in the water for several minutes, animal lovers raised questions on social media about the decision of the zoo authorities to shoot and kill rather than tranquilize him.
Angry social media users described Harambe’s death as “senseless” and accused the zoo authorities of “murder” because there was no evidence that the gorilla had intended to harm or kill the child.
According to some animal lovers, the gorilla appeared to be trying to protect the child from the screaming and agitated crowd.
Tens of thousands have signed a petition on Change.org, calling for the parents to be “held accountable for their actions of not supervising their child.”
Several thousands have also joined a Facebook group called “Justice For Harambe,” set up after news of the incident.
— New Day (@NewDay) May 30, 2016
“This beautiful gorilla lost his life because the boy’s parents did not keep a closer watch on the child,” the petition read.
“We the undersigned want the parents to be held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life.
“We the undersigned feel the child’s safety is paramount in this situation. We believe that this negligence may be reflective of the child’s home situation.”
“We the undersigned actively encourage an investigation of the child’s home environment in the interests of protecting the child and his siblings from further incidents of parental negligence that may result in serious bodily harm or even death.”
— Inquisitr News (@theinquisitr) May 29, 2016
— WLWT.com (@WLWT) May 29, 2016
Meanwhile, the boy’s mother, Michelle Gregg, released a statement on Facebook on Sunday, saying that her son was recovering at the hospital after the terrifying ordeal and that he was “doing just fine.”
“I want to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers today. What started off as a wonderful day turned into a scary one,” the statement said.
“My son is safe and was able to walk away with a concussion and a few scrapes… no broken bones or internal injuries,” the statement continued, adding, “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.”
— Tristen Phipps (@TristenEmily) May 29, 2016
Despite the fact that most social media users placed the blame on the parents, a witness, Deidre Lykins, said the accident was not the mother’s fault. According to Lykins, the mother had been next to her son a moment before he disappeared and his mother began calling for him.
— David Vance (@DVATW) May 29, 2016
Lykins pointed out that there was no effective barrier preventing the child from entering the enclosure.
“This was an open exhibit! Which means the only thing separating you from the gorillas is a 15 foot drop and a moat and some bushes,” Lykins said. “This mother was not negligent.”
Other witnesses pointed out that the mother was taking care of several other children at the zoo and that her son may have entered the enclosure while she was distracted momentarily by another child in her care.
Brittany Nicely, a mother from Fairborn, told WHIO that she saw the boy entering the enclosure and tried to stop him.
This makes me so sad. Humans are the very worst, keepers could've easily helped the child n saved a life#RIPHarambe pic.twitter.com/0hwxODaPXh
— Luca MacDonald (@lolaxoxo234) May 30, 2016
“I tried to grab him and I just couldn’t get to him fast enough,” Nicely said.
She agreed with animal lovers that the gorilla was not trying to hurt the boy but probably only trying to protect him.
“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,” she said.
The zoo authorities have responded to criticism of their decision to shoot and kill the gorilla, saying that the response team shot the gorilla because they assessed the situation as “life threatening.”
— Mark Thorpe (@seawildearth) May 30, 2016
Zoo director Thane Maynard told reporters that the response team did not use a tranquilizer because the boy would have been exposed to danger in the time it takes for the tranquilizer to knock out the gorilla.
“They made a tough choice and they made the right choice because they saved that little boy’s life.”
Maynard agreed that the gorilla was not attacking the child, pointing out that being a strong animal, Harambe could have harmed the child unintentionally.
— maddi dolan (@maddidolan) May 30, 2016
“You’re talking about an animal that’s over 400 pounds and extremely strong,” he told WLWT. “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.”
While animal lovers blamed the child’s parents for losing sight of their child, a primatologist with PETA, Julia Galluci, has placed the blame on the zoo, saying that the “gorilla enclosure should have been surrounded by a secondary barrier between the humans and the animals to prevent exactly this type of incident.”
[Image by Brocken Inaglory/Wikimedia Commons]