Posse Kills, Captures Escaped Animals; Monkey Still Loose

Oct 19, 2011
Originally published on October 19, 2011 6:18 pm

Armed deputies have found and killed nearly all the animals — including lions, tigers and bears — that escaped from a Zanesville, Ohio, private preserve on Tuesday, the local sheriff told reporters early this afternoon.

Investigators believe the preserve's owner, Terry Thompson, freed the 50-or-so animals and then killed himself. He was found dead at the scene.

Throughout the day, police hunted the animals because they said they posed a threat to public safety. At a press conference, Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said he felt there was no alternative — deputies do not carry tranquilizers, aren't trained to subdue animals with them and were faced with the prospect of dozens of dangerous animals getting into areas where people live.

As night fell, all but one of the 56 escaped animals had been captured or killed. A monkey was still at large and police managed to capture a grizzly bear, three leopards and two monkeys alive. They were taken to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

The New York Times' Greg Bishop reported that two wolves, six black bears, two grizzly bears, nine male lions, eight lionesses, one baby lion, three mountain lions and 18 Bengal tigers were killed.

Bishop tweeted the "worst part of the story" were those 18 Bengal tigers. "Jack Hanna of Columbus Zoo said there are only 1,400 in the world," he wrote.

We live-blogged the story throughout the day. Read below to see how it unfolded.

Update at 4:58 p.m. ET. The Wolf Is Killed:

NBC4i.com and The Columbus Dispatch are reporting that the wolf has been killed. That means only the monkey remains at large.

Update at 4:23 p.m. ET. Some Animals Captured Alive:

The Columbus Dispatch reports Sheriff Matt Lutz said 56 exotic animals escaped. Of those 49 were killed. Authorities managed to capture six of them alive. A grizzly bear, three leopards and two monkeys were then taken to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

Update at 3:05 p.m. ET. Monkey Will Need To Be Killed, Sheriff Says:

As we reported earlier, Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz says the only two animals on the loose are a monkey and a wolf. He just said at a news conference that animal control experts have advised his department not to try to capture the monkey, but to kill it as well. It is "highly likely that this animal is carrying Herpes B," the sheriff said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "infection with B virus is extremely rare in humans; however, when it does occur, the infection can result in severe neurologic impairment or fatal encephalomyelitis if the patient was not treated soon after exposure."

Update at 2:05 p.m. ET. Thompson Believed To Have Shot Himself:

Speaking with All Things Considered host Melissa Block moments ago, Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said investigators believe Thompson killed himself with a "self-inflicted gunshot wound."

Lutz also said that his deputies had been to the preserve more than 30 times in recent years in response to complaints from neighbors. And "every time we were out" there he worried about the animals getting loose. Thompson bought and kept the animals for himself, not for showing, Lutz said. As for the decision to kill the animals, Lutz repeated (as he's said at news conferences) that he felt there was no alternative — deputies do not carry tranquilizers, aren't trained to subdue animals with them and were faced with the prospect of dozens of dangerous animals getting into areas where people live.

More from Melissa's conversation with the sheriff is due on today's All Things Considered. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show.

The Columbus Dispatch profiles Thompson here. Last year, it reports, he told the Zanesville Times Recorder that:

"I have the animals because I love them and am willing to do whatever I have to take care of them. I have seven veterinarians on call at any time ... I don't use animals for commerce, so I'm under no regulations like a zoo.

"But I make sure my animals aren't a threat to the community, either."

The Recorder has audio of two 911 calls to police posted here.

Update at 1:15 p.m. ET. One Monkey, One Wolf Still Loose:

Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz just told reporters that a bear and a mountain lion who had been missing have been killed. Only a monkey and a wolf are still thought to be alive and loose, he said, as NBC4i.com reports.

Update at 11:20 a.m. ET. Three Animals Still Loose:

Authorities say "a mountain lion, grizzly bear and monkey [are] the only animals still running loose," The Associated Press says.

Update at 11 a.m. ET. More From The News Conference:

Columbus' NBC4i.com live-blogged the 10 a.m. ET news conference held by Sheriff Lutz. Among the things he reported is that though authorities believe Thompson killed himself, they have not found a suicide note.

According to NBC4i, Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, said during the news conference that the biggest concern at this point is a mountain lion that has not been accounted for.

Update at 10:50 a.m. ET. Report: Owner Had Recently Been In Prison.

The Columbus Dispatch writes that:

"Thompson, 62, was released from federal prison just three weeks ago, after serving a one-year term. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had raided Thompson's Kopchak Road property in June 2008, seizing more than 100 guns. In April 2010, Thompson pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Columbus to two federal charges: possession of a machine gun and possession of short firearms without serial numbers.

"Under terms of his release, Thompson was confined to his home for a year.

"Thompson also was convicted in Muskingum County Municipal Court in 2005 of cruelty to animals, having an animal at large and two counts of rendering animal waste without a license. The charges stemmed from allegations that three cows and a bison had died on another property he owned, on Boggs Road in Perry Township, east of Zanesville."

Update at 10:40 a.m. ET: A short time ago, Sheriff Lutz said authorities believe they've killed about 43 animals, but that there may have been as many as 51 on the site, The Columbus Dispatch reports.

During a news conference broadcast on the cable news networks, he also confirmed that authorities do suspect that Thompson freed the 50 or so animals on his preserve and then killed himself.

The sheriff described how he instructed his deputies last evening that "if the animals looked like they were going out, they were going down."

Today, he said, a veterinarian working with authorities was able to get close enough to a 300-pound tiger to fire a tranquilizer dart at the animal. But the tiger "went crazy," Lutz said, and "our officers put it down."

The sheriff also said that the preserve had been the subject of "numerous complaints" from neighbors in recent years and that deputies had visited it many times. It had been "a huge problem for us for a lot of years," Lutz said.

According to the Dispatch, "Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, defended the deputies who shot the animals, saying they did the right thing." Hanna was with Lutz at the news conference.

Update at 7:45 a.m. ET: Local Sheriff Matt Lutz just said on ABC's Good Morning America that about 35 of the exotic animals that escaped Tuesday from an Ohio preserve have been killed.

Our original post:

At least 25 of the estimated 48 lions, tigers, bears, wolves and other potentially dangerous animals that escaped from a Zanesville, Ohio, preserve on Tuesday had been killed by early this morning, The Columbus Dispatch reports.

The Dispatch adds that Muskingum County Sheriff's deputies were being assisted by a posse that includes troopers from the State Highway Patrol, "authorities from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and the Wilds, the state Division of Wildlife, the county Emergency Management Agency and township fire departments" as they hunt the animals.

It still isn't clear what happened at the preserve. As The Associated Press reports, Sheriff Matt Lutz said "his office started getting phone calls at about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday that wild animals were loose just west of Zanesville on a road that runs under Interstate 70. He said four deputies with assault rifles in a pickup truck went to the animal farm, where they found the owner, Terry Thompson, dead and all the animal cage doors open. He wouldn't say how Thompson died but said several aggressive animals were near his body when deputies arrived and had to be shot."

Today, according to the Dispatch, "Zanesville, West Muskingum and Maysville school districts, as well as Muskingum County Starlight School, all canceled classes ... to keep children inside. Lutz also recommends that residents remain inside today and call 911 if any wild animal is seen."

"This is a bad situation," the sheriff said.

WBNS-TV of Columbus has a video report. "Stay inside; protect your family," it begins.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

It has been a dramatic 24 hours in another part of Ohio, the area around Zanesville in Muskingum County. Authorities have been hunting wild animals after an astounding discovery late yesterday. Seventeen lions, 18 tigers, monkeys, wolves, bears, dozens of animals had been set loose from cages at a farm where they were kept. Authorities believe the owner, Terry Thompson, opened their cages and cut the wires. Thompson was found dead yesterday, apparently a suicide.

The Muskingum County sheriff, Matt Lutz, says officers shot and killed nearly 50 of the animals and captured six alive. They're still searching for a monkey. We reached Sheriff Lutz earlier today at a busy command post near the farm, and he explained how he tried to manage the emergency yesterday.

SHERIFF MATT LUTZ: Once I was in route, I heard what was going on, realized the severity of it, at that point, I ordered the fact that if we do have animals trying to get over the fence or outside, that they were to be put down. If we had animals that were in the field roaming wild that were trying to get to, outside defense lines, that they were to be put down.

BLOCK: Sheriff Lutz, you said the animals were put down. Why were you shooting the animals - why were you shooting to kill? In other words, why were you not using tranquilizer guns?

LUTZ: Well, we don't carry tranquilizer guns. I don't know of any sheriff's office in the state of Ohio that has a tranquilizer gun in every cruiser. We do not have any other options other than deadly force. And we did request our local wilds preserve to send people out with tranquilizers. We also called for Columbus Zoo officials to come down. And by the time they got down, you know, it was at night, and it was just not a safe environment.

Once we got in there today, we did find another cat, a big tiger, that was laying in some brush. The vet took an unbelievable chance of getting close to this cat to tranquilize it. When she shot, the animal reacted, aggressively jumped up towards her and then turned and started to dart away from us. And at that point, we put that animal down, as well, because, you know, public safety was our number one concern, and we felt if we gave any of these animals a chance to get into freedom, that they would possibly have a chance to harm somebody.

BLOCK: I gather, Sheriff Lutz, that there have been a lot of complaints over the years about Mr. Thompson for animal abuse, and also complaints that animals have escaped before. Is that right?

LUTZ: Yeah. We've had about 35 incidents in our computer over the last seven years. And those range from anything from animal cruelty to animals at large to inhumane treatment of these animals.

BLOCK: Thirty-five incidents, which raises the question of why this operation was still under way, why this preserve was still...

LUTZ: I think there's a lot of people questioning that right now. And I think Ohio's laws have been pretty laxed in that field. And I think this is a situation where this individual was allowed to keep these animals. Obviously, he's let them out voluntarily. But at least, you know, they were allowed to keep these animals under some pretty uncertain circumstances.

BLOCK: Sheriff Lutz, over the years, as you were dealing with these complaints, had you feared that something like this might happen?

LUTZ: Every time we were out here.

BLOCK: Really?

LUTZ: Every time we were out here, we knew - I guess in the back of my mind I felt at one point Terry would probably get attacked by one of the animals because he was very confident in his ability to deal with the animals. He often went into the cages by himself, often had animals in the house that he treated as pets. And I just kind of assumed that's what would happen.

But I never dreamed that he would let them out. But we always knew that because the conditions of the farm were not always that stable, that there was always a chance that these animals could get free.

BLOCK: As concerned as you are, of course, about public safety, I wonder if it's been a tough thing for the officers to be killing lions and tigers.

LUTZ: Well, you know, it's never easy to kill anything. We have a lot of deputies that deer hunt. This is along those same kind of lines, but deer always run away from you. These exotic animals do not. And it's a situation where it's very scary. You know, we're not talking about the average pet. We're talking about a 300-pound Bengal tiger, and we're talking about bears that go from two to 300 pounds.

And, I mean, all these killings were senseless. You know, you never want to have to do this, especially to an exotic animal. But to keep this thing contained to this farm, like we have done, is, you know, it's just unbelievable.

BLOCK: Well, Sheriff Lutz, thanks for talking with us today.

LUTZ: All right. Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Sheriff Matt Lutz of Muskingum County, Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.