EXCLUSIVE PICTURES of parents whose child fell into zoo enclosure sparking gorilla killing
EXCLUSIVE PICTURES of parents whose child fell into zoo enclosure sparking gorilla killing
These are the parents of the four-year-old boy whose fall into the gorilla exhibit moat in Cincinnati Zoo resulted in the death of 17-year-old silverback gorilla, Harambe.
Seen here for the first time Michelle Gregg, 32, has four children by Deonne Dickerson, 36, a man who, Daily Mail Online can disclose, has a lengthy criminal history.
Criminal filings against Dickerson stretch over a decade and include burglary, firearms offences, drug trafficking, criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and kidnap.
In 2006 he was sentenced to one year behind bars for a drug trafficking conviction.
But in numerous pictures posted on Dickerson’s Facebook site in recent years he appears to have turned his life around to become the proud father of four.
Indeed, the majority of his postings to the social media site are updates of his children and his working life.
In others pictures he has uploaded his friends post congratulate him and Michelle on the birth of their fourth child last January.
Cleveland based Dickerson is from Atlanta, Georgia studied at Cuyahoga Community College, Ohio and now works as a sorter at a Cincinnati industrial equipment supplier.
Gregg is currently the administrator at a Cincinnati pre-school.
She has been the subject of sharp criticism following the incident that saw zoo staff shoot dead Harambe who, according to new video footage, may have been protecting rather than threatening the child after he crawled through a barrier and fell into the gorilla’s enclosure.
Many social media commenters have criticized the boy’s parents and said they should be held accountable. A Cincinnati police spokesman said no charges were being considered. A spokeswoman for the family said Monday they had no plans to comment.
‘I do think there’s a degree of responsibility they have to be held to,’ said Kate Villanueva, a mother of two children from Erlanger, Kentucky, who started the ‘Justice for Harambe’ page and attended Monday’s vigil. ‘You have to be watching your children at all times.’
More outraged animal lovers took to social media declaring the western lowland gorilla’s life was unnecessarily taken, and more than 4,000 have already joined the ‘Justice for Harambe’.
Ian Redmond, the chairman of the Gorilla Organization, told CNN : ‘When gorilla or other apes have things they shouldn’t have, keepers will negotiate with them, bring food, their favorite treats, pineapple or some kind of fruit that they don’t know and negotiate with them.’
Primatologist Julia Gallucci said: ‘The gorilla enclosure should have been surrounded by a secondary barrier between the humans and the animals to prevent exactly this type of incident.’
Others are placing the blame squarely on the boy’s parents.
More than 115,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for the mother and father to be ‘held accountable for their actions of not supervising their child’.
One Twitter user wrote: ‘So a beautiful, innocent gorilla has to die because neglectful parents can’t control their kids? Mankind sucks 🙁 #Harambe #CincinnatiZoo’
Another user Chris Dasauchoit tweeted: ‘Beautiful animals sadly paying for utter human stupidity and negligence with their lives. #Harame #CincinnatiZoo.’
Police said prosecutors could choose to indict the parents, but Cincinnati Police Lieutenant Stephen Saunders said he was not aware of any intention to do so.
Soon after the incident, Michelle Gregg, the mother of the boy, posted a message on Facebook saying: ‘I want to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers today. What started off as a wonderful day turned into a scary one.
‘For those of you that have seen the news or been on social media that was my son that fell in the gorilla exhibit at the zoo. God protected my child until the authorities were able to get to him.
‘My son is safe and was able to walk away with a concussion and a few scrapes… no broken bones or internal injuries.
‘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.’
The family released a statement on Sunday saying they had taken their boy home from the hospital.
It read: ‘We are so thankful to the Lord that our child is safe. He is home and doing just fine. We extend our heartfelt thanks for the quick action by the Cincinnati Zoo staff.
‘We know that this was a very difficult decision for them, and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla. We hope that you will respect our privacy at this time.’
Deidre Lykins was also at the zoo when she saw the boy drop into the enclosure.
She described how Ms Gregg was calling out for her son and had just been next to him when he disappeared.
Then she had to stop her husband from going in to try and rescue him. But she insists Ms Gregg is not at fault, and wrote on Facebook: ‘This mother was not negligent and the zoo did an awesome job handling the situation!
‘This was an open exhibit! Which means the only thing separating you from the gorillas, is a 15 ish foot drop and a moat and some bushes!’
This comes as new video footage of Harambe the gorilla suggests he was trying to protect a four-year-old boy who fell into the zoo enclosure just minutes before the 400-pound animal was fatally shot.
The clip shows Harambe standing guard over the boy in the corner of the moat, and the two even share a brief moment holding hands.
Witnesses said the gorilla was acting protectively in the tense situation, which may have been aggravated by panicked onlookers who screamed as they watched from above.
Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard confirmed the boy was not under attack, but called it a ‘life threatening situation’ where the gorilla was ‘agitated’, ‘disoriented’, and ‘behaving erratically’.
During a press conference on Monday afternoon, Maynard supported the animal response team’s decision to kill Harambe, and said: ‘Looking back we would make the same decision.’
He also insisted the zoo’s barriers were secure, saying: ‘We all need to work to make sure our families are safe. Do you know any four-year-olds? They can climb over anything.’
The incident, which was captured on a cell phone camera, has sparked an outcry of emotion, with thousands of mourners branding it a ‘senseless death’.
A mother who was at the zoo said she tried to stop the child, who authorities believe crawled past the railing and fell 10 feet into the gorilla’s habitat, where he spent more than 10 minutes.
‘I tried to prevent it, I tried to grab him and I just couldn’t get to him fast enough,’ Brittany Nicely told WHIO.
According to Nicely, the gorilla was acting protectively towards the boy and did not exhibit any threatening behavior.
A newly released video shows Harambe standing over the boy in the corner of the moat, appearing to shield him from the screaming crowd above.
The animal then dragged the boy by the leg, but the two shared a surprisingly tender moment when the four-year-old reached for Harambe’s arm and the two briefly held hands.
According to the fire department incident report, the gorilla was ‘violently dragging and throwing the child’, WLWT reported.
But Nicely contradicted the account, saying: ‘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.’
Kim O’Connor told WLWT she heard the boy talking about getting into the water before she heard a splash, followed by frantic yelling when onlookers realized he was inside the enclosure.
According to O’Connor, the gorilla looked like he was trying to protect the boy from panicked bystanders who may have aggravated the tense situation.
‘I don’t know if the screaming did it or too many people hanging on the edge, if he thought we were coming in, but then he pulled the boy down away further from the big group,’ she said.
Harambe later dragged the four-year-old out of the moat before he was fatally shot with a rifle while the boy was still between the animal’s legs.
The zoo director confirmed the gorilla did not appear to be attacking the child, but he described it as ‘an extremely strong animal in an agitated situation’.
‘You’re talking about an animal that’s over 400 pounds and extremely strong. 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,’ Maynard told WLWT.
During a press conference on Monday, Maynard said Harambe was ‘behaving erratically’, before adding: ‘The child wasn’t just being endangered, but dragged around by the ankle and hurt.’
He explained that tranquilizing the gorilla, which could have taken several attempts, would have left the boy in danger since the effect would not have been immediate.
He also said in a statement released Sunday: ‘The impact from the dart could agitate the animal and cause the situation to get much worse.
‘We are heartbroken about losing Harambe, but a child’s life was in danger and a quick decision had to be made.’
He supported the zoo’s dangerous animal response team for their decision to kill Harambe, and said: ‘They made a tough choice and they made the right choice because they saved that little boy’s life.’
During Monday’s press conference, Maynard said he wasn’t there to ‘point fingers’ but said: ‘We all need to work to make sure our families are safe.’
‘We’re the ones who took the loss on this- you can trust me, a lot of people expressed concerns, but it doesn’t affect anyone as much as the people at the zoo.
‘This is a very big loss to the zoo- not just an emotional loss, but a loss to a key conservation and breeding program.’
On Monday, the zoo director insisted the horizontal barriers were secure and said: ‘We take safety very seriously and we are keenly interested in improvement.
‘Any of us could climb over barriers if we choose. As I said, you can lock your car or lock your house, but if someone wants to get in, they can.’
He cited the incident last week in Chile, where a man with a suicide note in his pocket stripped down and broke into a lion enclosure at the Santiago Zoo where he was mauled before two of the animals were shot dead.
The animal response team at Cincinnato Zoo had practiced drills and ‘table top discussions’ after the incident, without realizing they would be facing a similar scenario on Saturday.
While safety measures are being evaluated, Maynard said the gorilla exhibit is expected to reopen next weekend without citing specific security improvements.
Zoo director Maynard noted it was the first time the team had killed a zoo animal in such an emergency situation, and he called it ‘a very sad day’.
He said said in a statement: ‘The Zoo security team’s quick response saved the child’s life.
‘We are all devastated that this tragic accident resulted in the death of a critically-endangered gorilla. This is a huge loss for the Zoo family and the gorilla population worldwide.’
Jerry Stones, who worked at the Gladys Porter Zoo, in Bronwsville, Texas, where Harambe lived before he was transferred in 2014, said he was devastated by the news.
Stones, who raised the gorilla, told the NY Daily News: ‘It tore me a new one. An old man can cry, too. He was a special guy in my life. It’s a sad day for us.’
He added: ‘He grew up to be a pretty, beautiful male. He was very intelligent. His mind was going constantly. He was just such a sharp character.’
Western lowland gorillas are deemed critically endangered by the World Wildlife Fund, but Maynard said Harambe’s death would not be the end of his lineage, since viable sperm was stored at the zoo.
Gorilla World has been closed since the incident on Saturday, although Maynard said it was expected to reopen by next weekend. The rest of the zoo has been open as usual.
In March, two curious polar bears at the zoo wandered into a behind-the-scenes service hallway through an open den door, but never left a secondary containment area.
The zoo said the 17-year-old female Berit and the 26-year-old male Little One, entered an ‘inappropriate’ area but remained contained and were never loose or a threat to the public.
During that incident, zoo officials said staff followed protocols and safely returned the bears to their main holding area within two hours.