The parents of the 3-year-old boy who fell into the Gorilla World exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo, leading to the fatal shooting of Harambe the gorilla, have been identified as Michelle Gregg and Deonne Dickerson.
On June 6, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters announced no criminal charges would be filed against Gregg, following a police investigation.
The 32-year-old Cincinnati mother posted a now-deleted Facebook post thanking the zoo for making the difficult decision to shoot the gorilla to save her son. Gregg and the boy’s father, Dickerson, 36, have faced online backlash after the incident.
“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,” Zoo Director Thane Maynard said in a statement. “This is a huge loss for the Zoo family and the gorilla population worldwide.”
The boy, named Isaiah, was originally reported to be 4, but police said Tuesday he is actually 3. He turns 4 in December.
The family released a statement through a public relations firm.
“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,” the statement from Gail Myers Public Relations said. “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.”
The family told People they do not plan to accept any interviews because of the outcry and are trying to “keep their lives as normal as possible.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. She Can Be Heard Telling the Boy ‘Mommy Is Here’ in a Bystanders’ Video
Videos of the incident were recorded by a bystander and posted on social media. The videos show the 400-pound gorilla grabbing the 3-year-old boy and dragging him through a moat area. He then stops and stands over the boy, before dragging him further into the enclosure.
During one part of the video, which you can watch below, Michelle Gregg can be heard talking to her crying son and saying “Oh God, please protect him,” while panicked zoo visitors call for help.
“Isaiah, be calm,” Gregg calls out. “Be calm, be calm.”
In another part of the video, she can be heard saying, “Mommy’s right here,” and “mommy loves you.”
Kim O’Connor, who recorded video of the incident, said it appeared the gorilla was trying to protect the child.
“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,” Kim O’Connor told WLWT-TV.
Cincinnati Fire Chief Marc Monahan said in a statement to NBC News that the gorilla was seen “violently dragging and throwing the child.”
He said the gorilla was “neutralized” by a Cincinnati Zoo employe with one shot from a long rifle.
2. Gregg Posted on Facebook Saying ‘Accidents Happen’ & Thanking God for Protecting Her Son
Michelle Gregg broke her silence in a Facebook post on Sunday. She has since deleted the post and her Facebook profile after receiving backlash. You can read the post below:
A new statement was released by the family on Wednesday:
“We continue to praise God for His grace and mercy, and to be thankful to the Cincinnati Zoo for their actions taken to protect our child,” the family said. “We are also very appreciative for the expressions of concern and support that have been sent to us. Some have offered money to the family, which we do not want and will not accept. If anyone wishes to make a gift, we recommend a donation to the Cincinnati Zoo in Harambe’s name.”
The 3-year-old boy was released from a local children’s hospital on Sunday. He suffered serious, but not life-threatening, injuries, authorities said.
Witnesses said the boy wandered away from his mother, “flopped” over a fence and then crawled into the gorilla enclosure, eventually falling down into the moat.
In a Facebook post, Deirdre Lykins described what she saw:
I was taking a pic of the female gorilla, when my eldest son yells, “what is he doing? ” I looked down, and to my surprise, there was a small child that had apparently, literally “flopped” over the railing, where there was then about 3 feet of ground that the child quickly crawled through! ! I assumed the woman next to me was the mother, getting ready to grab him until she says, “Whose kid is this? ” None of us actually thought he’d go over the nearly 15 foot drop, but he was crawling so fast through the bushes before myself or husband could grab him, he went over! The crowed got a little frantic and the mother was calling for her son. Actually, just prior to him going over, but she couldn’t see him crawling through the bushes! She said “He was right here! I took a pic and his hand was in my back pocket and then gone!” As she could find him nowhere, she lookes to my husband (already over the railing talking to the child) and asks, “Sir, is he wearing green shorts? ” My husband reluctantly had to tell her yes, when she then nearly had a break down! They are both wanting to go over into the 15 foot drop, when I forbade my husband to do so, and attempted to calm the mother by calling 911 and assure her help was on the way. Neither my husband or the mother would have made that jump without breaking something! I wasn’t leaving with my boys, because I didn’t trust my husband not to jump in and the gorilla did just seem to be protective of the child. It wasn’t until the gorilla became agitated because of the nosey, dramatic, helpless crowd; that the gorilla violently ran with the child! And it was very violent; although I think the gorilla was still trying to protect, we’re taking a 400 lb gorilla throwing a 40 lb toddler around! It was horrific! The zoo responded very quickly, clearing the area and attempting to save both the child and the gorilla! The right choice was made. Thank God the child survived with non-life threatening, but serious injuries! 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 mother was not negligent and the zoo did an awesome job handling the situation! Especially since that had never happened before! ! Thankful for the zoo and their attempts and my thoughts and prayers goes out to this boy, his mother and his family.
Another witness, Brittany Nicely, told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the little boy in the bushes past the little fence area. I tried to grab for him. I started yelling at him to come back. Everybody started screaming and going crazy. It happened so fast.”
Lykins defended Gregg, writing on Facebook, “This was an accident! ! A terrible accident, but just that!”
The zoo’s director said he doesn’t like to point fingers during a press conference Monday, and also appeared to defend the mother.
“Do you know any four-year-olds? They can climb over anything,” director Thane Maynard told reporters.
A woman who has a son with Gregg’s husband also posted about the incident on Facebook on Sunday, saying she got a call from them after the incident:
In the comments on the post, the woman wrote what Gregg told her about the incident:
The woman also said she talked to the boy on the phone and he said he wants to go back to the zoo.
3. Gregg, a Mother of 4, Is an Administrator at a Cincinnati Daycare
Gregg, a mother of four, posted a photo of her children, including her 3-year-old son, to Facebook, and a screenshot of it has been shared on several pages calling for justice for the gorilla:
The Cincinnati preschool where Gregg works, Little Blossoms Academy, was overwhelmed with angry Facebook messages and posts on its page after her name was made public.
“The tragic event that happened at the Cincinnati Zoo over the holiday weekend hit very close to home for Little Blossoms Academy,” the pre-school said, according to Fox 19. “The child who made his way into the gorilla enclosure is the son of our site manager, Michelle Gregg.”
The preschool, where Gregg is an administrator, according to Ohio records, wrote, “On behalf of the Little Blossoms Academy, we feel it is appropriate for us to remove comments or images posted to this page that in any way reference Michelle Gregg, her child, or the recent horrible
incident that occurred at the Cincinnati Zoo.”
Airy, the mother of a child who attends Little Blossoms Academy, defended Gregg, telling People, “All the negativity I see online – that’s not her. She’s not a neglectful woman. She’s caring. It’s not about her not paying attention or not caring. Things happen.”
Airy said she’s comfortable having Gregg care for her kids.
“She takes good care of my kids,” she said. “It’s the best daycare I’ve had.”
The preschool said in a press release that Gregg, a site manager, was not work Tuesday because she was home tending to her son’s injuries. It is not clear when, or if, she plans to return to work. Many have said they plan to call the preschool demanding she be removed from her position, or have suggested protesting outside the business.
The press release said the academy’s staff “is thankful that he is safe. And, with the rest of the world, we are mourning the loss of the Cincinnati Zoo’s beloved silverback. Our focus today, and every day, remains with our preschoolers. We ask the both the media and the public respect our learning environment and the privacy of our staff and families.”
4. Petitions & Facebook Groups Have Been Started to Call for Gregg & Her Family to be Held Responsible
Cincinnati Police issued a statement Tuesday, saying its Personal Crimes Unit is “closely reviewing the facts and circumstances that led to a four-year-old boy falling into the Gorilla World enclosure.”
The police statement said “this review is only regarding the actions of the parents/family that led up to the incident and not related to the operation and safety of the Cincinnati Zoo.”
Police said anyone who witnessed the incident, has video recordings, or has any additional information should call the Criminal Investigations Section at 513-352-3542.
“The incident at the Cincinnati Zoo involving the young child who fell into the gorilla enclosure is under investigation by the Cincinnati Police Department,” Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters said in a statement. “Once their investigation is concluded, they will confer with our office on possible criminal charges. When the investigation and review are complete, we will update the media.”
After a week-long investigation, Deters announced no charges would be filed, saying Gregg “did not act in any way” to put her 3-year-old son, Isaiah, in harms way. The boy was hospitalized with serious injuries, but was sent home to recover a day after the May 28 incident.
Many outraged animal lovers have taken to social media to express outrage toward the boy’s parents, saying they are to blame for Harambe’s death by letting the 3-year-old fall into the enclosure.
“The little boy himself had already been talking about wanting to…get in the water. The mother’s like ‘No, you’re not, you’re not,’” witness Kim O’Connor told the New York Daily News.
Many have said the gorilla should not have been shot, saying it appeared in the video that the gorilla was holding the boy’s hand and comforting him, and not trying to harm him. The zoo said the boy’s life was in danger, and a tranquilizer would have taken too long to have an effect on the large gorilla, and could have made him more agitated.
Others pointed to videos showing two boys, one in Brookfield, Illinois, and another at the Jersey Zoo in Britain, being protected and rescued by gorillas.
A Facebook group, “Justice for Harambe” was created on Sunday. A Change.org petition also calling for justice for the gorilla has garnered more than 168,000 signatures from people calling for the boy’s parents to be held responsible:
We the undersigned want the parents to be held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life. We the undersigned feel the child’s safety is paramount in this situation. We believe that this negligence may be reflective of the child’s home situation. We the undersigned actively encourage an investigation of the child’s home environment in the interests of protecting the child and his siblings from further incidents of parental negligence that may result in serious bodily harm or even death.
Another petition calling for Child Protective Services to investigate the mother has received more than 50,000 signatures.
The zoo has said it will study the incident and make any necessary changes.
In a statement, the Cincinnati Zoo said, “Gorilla World opened in 1978, and this is the first time there has been a breach. The exhibit is inspected regularly by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and the United States Department of Agriculture and adheres to safety guidelines.”
The outrage against Gregg has also caused others who share her name to receive angry Facebook messages. One Cleveland mother named Michelle Gregg changed her Facebook profile photo to a picture that says, “This Michelle has never even been to the Cincinnati Zoo! Neither has my 5-year-old son!”
“Yesterday I received a crazy amount of friend requests… I don’t really keep up with the news, however I am very familiar with the 4 year old boy who made his way into the gorillas exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo,” the other Gregg wrote. “I literally just found out his mother’s name is Michelle Gregg….. yikes! So I instantly go check my ‘filtered’ email and find a bunch of hate emails.”
Another Michelle Gregg, who lives in California, changed her profile picture to a Star Wars meme:
And a third woman, who is not named Michelle Gregg but is a teacher at the preschool where Gregg is an administrator, has had her photo spread on social media and some news sites, after some claimed she was Gregg. The unnamed woman is pictured in a photo with two students on the daycare’s now-deleted Facebook page.
A fake profile on Facebook was made using Gregg’s name and the woman’s photo, adding to the confusion.
5. Harambe Lived With 2 Female Gorillas & Recently Celebrated His Birthday
Harambe has been at the Cincinnati Zoo since 2014. He was previously at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, according to a Facebook post.
Harambe celebrated his 17th birthday on May 27.
He was raised at the Gladys Porter Zoo from birth by Jerry Stones. The zookeeper told the New York Daily News, “He was a special guy in my life. Harambe was my heart. It’s like losing a member of the family.”
But Stones did not second guess the Cincinnati Zoo’s decision to shoot Harambe.
“I raised him from a baby, he was a sweet cute little guy,” Stones told the Daily News. “He grew up to be a pretty, beautiful male. He was very intelligent. Very, very intelligent. His mind was going constantly. He was just such a sharp character.”
In a post about Harambe shortly after he made his debut in Gorilla World, the Cincinnati Zoo said he was placed in a social group with two 19-year-old females, “Chewie” and “Mara.” The zoo said he was large for his age at 419 pounds.
“At 16, Harambe is a young silverback learning his role as a future leader. He got too old to fit in at his natal institution and, like wild gorillas, had to leave the area to find his own way. Matching him up with the socially-savvy Chewie and Mara is a good step in his development,” Ron Evans, the Cincinnati Zoo’s curator of primates, said. “It’s important to have self-assured females as Harambe transitions from teenager to confident and well-balanced silverback. He demonstrates intelligence and curiosity, using sticks and things to reach for items outside his grasp.”
Read more about Michelle Gregg and Harambe in Spanish at AhoraMismo.com: