No charges against mother in Cincinnati gorilla case: prosecutor

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 06, 2016 10:40 AM

By Ginny McCabe

CINCINNATI (Reuters) - No criminal charges will be filed against the mother of the 3-year-old boy who fell into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, causing zookeepers to kill an endangered gorilla to protect the child, an Ohio prosecutor said on Monday.

A 17-year-old endangered western lowland silverback gorilla named Harambe was shot by zoo staff in the minutes after the boy fell on May 28, touching off a storm of criticism aimed at both the zoo and the boy's mother.

Some critics had called for criminal charges against the mother, who was with the boy at the zoo, for reckless endangerment. Police and prosecutors did not provide the name of the mother, but multiple media reports identified her as 32-year-old Michelle Gregg, who works as a preschool administrator.

The boy suffered a concussion and some scrapes but escaped serious injury. The family previously said it does not intend to sue the zoo.

"I am very sorry about the loss of this gorilla but nothing about this situation rises to the level of a criminal charge," Hamilton County prosecutor Joseph Deters said on Monday.

"Had she been in the bathroom smoking crack and let her kids run around the zoo that'd be a different story," he told reporters on Monday. "She was attending to her children by all witness accounts and the 3-year-old just scampered off."

He said the mother, according to witnesses, never placed her son in danger and only turned away for a few seconds to deal with another child.

"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," he added.

Deters also said he was glad the zoo had changed the gorilla enclosure to prevent a repeat of the incident. It will reopen Tuesday with a higher barrier and added knotted rope netting.

The family was pleased with the prosecutor's decision.

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

The boy was at the zoo with his mother, three sisters, ages 7, 4 and 1, and family friends when he climbed over a 3-foot barrier and fell 15 feet into a moat, according to the Hamilton County prosecutor's office and witnesses.

The gorilla dragged the child through the enclosure before zoo officials shot him.

(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz, Suzannah Gonzales and Justin Madden in Chicago; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Cynthia Osterman)