The mother of a toddler who fell into a gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo won't face criminal charges, the city's head prosecutor said Monday.
"By all accounts, this mother did not act in any way where she presented this child to some harm," Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Deters said in a news conference. "She had three other kids with her and turned her back. And I've gotten dozens if not hundreds of emails about this case, and if anyone doesn't believe a 3-year-old can scamper off really quickly, they've never had kids, because they can, and they do."
Deters said he also did not see any criminal liability for the zoo or its Dangerous Animal Response Team, which shot the 450-pound male western lowland gorilla named Harambe on May 28 after it pawed at the boy and dragged him through a moat while his frightened mother watched. The single fatal rifle shot to the head came as the boy was between the gorilla's legs.
The zoo said later the staff was concerned that tranquilizing the gorilla would have taken too long and put the boy at more risk.
The zoo plans to reopen the exhibit Tuesday with a more secure public barrier.
"The zoo lost a beautiful animal and one that many people in this area have enjoyed watching for a long time," Deters said. "But it's still an animal. It does not equate with human life. And they felt this (boy's) life was in jeopardy and they made the painful choice to do what they did."
The boy's family released a statement saying it was "very pleased" with Deter'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 statement said.
Deter said his office's investigation included talking to witnesses who saw the mother turn to care for another of her children — the others are 7, 4 and 1 — and watched the boy slip through a fence and fall 15 feet into the gorilla's enclosure. Investigators also visited the mother's home and found nothing improper.
Finally, the boy was — amazingly — unharmed, Deters said.
"I don't know how he wasn't hurt," he said.
Deters said the boy was remarkably calm during the ordeal, and if he or the animal had behaved any other way may have led to a worse outcome.
"I just think we're lucky that the zoo did what they had to do," Deters said.