The shooting of Harambe, a 17-year-old silverback gorilla, has sparked a social media firestorm of blame, sadness, and debate. Harambe, a 400-pound critically endangered species who lived at the Cincinnati Zoo, was killed on Saturday after a 4-year-old boy crawled through a barrier and fell 15 feet into the zoo’s gorilla enclosure. Zoo staff made the decision to shoot Harambe when they grew concerned that he would harm the boy, insisting that a tranquilizer would take too long to take effect and might startle Harambe into violence.
Eyewitnesses have mixed beliefs about whether Harambe was a threat—some say he was acting aggressively toward the boy, while others say he appeared to be protective. Harambe and the little boy were even briefly spotted holding hands, and when worried onlookers began screaming and moving closer to the enclosure barriers, Harambe seemed to attempt to physically shield the boy from the chaos.
A flurry of opinions about the situation have erupted from every angle, but two voices have been mostly missing from the fray: those of the boy’s parents, 32-year-old Michelle Gregg and 36-year-old Deonne Dickerson. According to UK’s Daily Mail, Gregg, who has four children with Dickerson, took to Facebook after the event to share her thoughts and defend herself. “What started off as a wonderful day turned into a scary one,” she wrote. “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.”
She went on to share that while her son suffered a concussion, he walked away without any broken bones or major 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,” she continued. “Accidents happen but I am thankful that the right people were in the right place today. Thank you to everyone that helped me and my son today and most importantly God for being the awesome God that He is.”
Gregg and Dickerson have been on the receiving end of anger from many animal lovers who are upset with them for allowing their son to fall into enclosure. Several bystanders who were at the enclosure that day told the UK’s Daily Mail that Dickerson and Gregg were far from negligent, and instead were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. According to a spokesperson for the family, the couple has no current plans to speak further about the incident.
Harambe’s death is a tragedy, but instead of pointing fingers, perhaps a more productive way to channel the hurt over his loss is to consider what we as a society can do to prevent an awful situation like this from ever happening again.