PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A child was mauled to death at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium Sunday morning after falling into an enclosure.
The investigation into the toddler’s death continued Monday and witnesses describe it as a terrifying and chaotic scene.
The parking lot was empty Monday morning as the zoo is now closed until further notice. The incident was described as “beyond traumatic” for all that witnessed a 2-year-old boy fall into the yard where 11 African painted dogs mauled the toddler to death.
“From what I understand, what occurred at that scene until it was secured, it was horrific,” Lt. Kevin Kraus said.
“Our hearts, and prayers, and sorrows go out to the family of the young child,” Dr. Barbara Baker of the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium said.
Dr. Baker said staff, despite their best efforts, could not stop the attack.
Describing the wild animals as being territorial, all but one was eventually secured. The last dog showed extreme aggressiveness towards emergency crews and the lifeless body of the boy.
“Very unfortunately in this situation, the dogs were doing what they normally would do,” Dr. Baker said. “He would not move away from the child when the emergency teams arrived, so he was shot. And that was the correct thing to do. While we care very much for the animals, human safety, human life is more important.”
Police said the mother and toddler, from Pleasant Hills, were on the observation deck of the exhibit just before noon, when the mother placed the child on the railing.
He lost his balance and fell over 11 feet into the enclosure. The attack lasted only minutes and was witnessed by the mother, family and others nearby.
“A couple of the men around that area were running up to the dog pen and banging on the wood trying to get the dogs to kind of leave the kid alone, telling the kid to run,” one witness said.
Police said it would highly inappropriate to speculate about any charges, but they will be looking into the safety of the exhibit and any precautions that could have been taken.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl issued a statement about the tragedy Monday morning:
“As a father myself, I can imagine the pain that the parents and family are going through, and it must be unbearable. This tragic incident has shocked and devastated the entire community. We must focus now on sending our prayers and support to the victim’s family and to all involved with this tragic incident as officials continue their investigation.”
The zoo will be holding a press conference at 1 p.m. to further discuss this incident.