A baby kangaroo named Hoppy was found dead at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas on Monday after it escaped from a vehicle over the weekend.
"Anytime you’re dealing with animals, things can happen," Janice Cockrill-Griffin, the owner of the Cabot-based Cockrills Country Critters Mobile Petting Zoo and Pony Rides, told NBC News.
"This was an unfortunate event because he was still a baby," she said about Hoppy, who was 10 months old.
The petting zoo was participating in an event at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville on Saturday for the family of airmen with the 19th Airlift Wing.
Hoppy was last seen sitting in a cloth pouch on the back of the headrest of the front seat of the petting zoo's truck.
Cockrill-Griffin believes that Hoppy may have been startled after a worker placed another animal on the front seat floor in the same vehicle and may have jumped out of an open front window.
Several workers chased after the 20-pound kangaroo but it escaped into a wooded area, Crockrill-Griffin said.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
"Although many tried to catch Hoppy over the last few days, he was unable to survive without the care of his handlers," Captain Beau T. Downey, with the 19th Airlift Wing, said.
"We were deeply saddened at this turn of events," he said.
News of his death came as a surprise to the zoo owner.
"We assumed that he would be okay. He was very social, very loveable," Cockrill-Griffin said, adding that Hoppy's face had wounds that appeared as though it was "attacked by a coyote or a dog."
"He had teeth marks around his face," she said.
Cockrill-Griffin, whose zoo manages eight kangaroos, said she has received online criticism of her handling of animals since Hoppy's death, and argued that her experience and business licenses prove otherwise.
"When you're licensed by the USDA, you have several inspections and you have to document a lot," she maintained, referring to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In January, Lilly Johnson, an Arkansas 6-year-old battling a rare form of bone cancer, named the kangaroo.
Lilly’s uncle contacted Cockrill-Griffin last year in December because his niece had a dream of seeing kangaroos in Australia but due to her condition, called Ewing's Sarcoma, would not be able to travel, the zoo’s owner said.
The uncle offered to pay for the petting zoo to bring kangaroos to the young girl, but Cockrill-Griffin said she offered to do it for free.
They surprised Lilly with a visit from a different kangaroo named Carter.
Lilly died in February.
Her mother left a heartfelt social media post Monday saying Hoppy is now keeping Lilly company in heaven.
Rima Abdelkader is a reporter and producer for NBC News, covering national and international news.
Shamar Walters is a New York City-based journalist for NBC News. The American University graduate previously spent time at Dateline NBC, ESPN's Around the Horn, Reservoir Films and WAMU.