U.S. prosecutors say no criminal charges will be brought against the mother of the little boy who fell into a gorilla habitat at a zoo in Cincinnati, Ohio, forcing sharpshooters to kill an endangered gorilla that had seized control of the toddler.
The May 28 killing of the 180-kilogram western lowland silverback gorilla named Harambe sparked a firestorm of public outrage, with hundreds of thousands of critics taking to social media to condemn the death and vilify the mother for what they insisted was negligent child care.
But Monday, Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters said an investigation showed the case did not come close to warranting charges of child endangerment against the mother. Deters described her as an attentive parent who had turned away "for a few seconds" to attend to three other children when the boy "scampered" over a 1-meter-tall barrier and fell 4.5 meters into the gorilla enclosure.
"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," the prosecutor said.
The zoo, which has since modified the enclosure and the surrounding spectator area, had no public comment on the prosecutor's decision. The facility is expected to reopen Tuesday with a higher, reinforced barrier.
In the wild, western lowland silverback gorillas are found in the dense rain forests of Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea.
Heavy forest coverage has prevented scientists from accurately estimating how many of the species live in those African countries. Conservationists, however, say the future of the species is threatened by illegal poaching, loss of habitat and Ebola hemorrhagic fever.