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The Mother in the Cincinnati Zoo Case Will Not Be Charged — and We Should All Be Thankful

“Just stay calm, Mama is right here.”

Those were the words of Michelle Gregg to her 3-year-old son Isaiah last week, captured in video recording made by a bystander after Isaiah fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. He was now being dragged about by a 400 lbs. gorilla named Harambe. Isaiah miraculously did remain about as calm as you could expect any human being to be after coming face-to-face with a gorilla. But sadly, Harambe’s life came to a sudden end after zoo keepers made the difficult decision to shoot and kill him in an effort to rescue Isaiah.

Not remaining calm was the rest of the world, as a sharp divide immediately placed people on two sides of a heated debate: those who thought Isaiah’s tumble into Harambe’s enclosure was a mere accident, and those who thought it was a direct result of Michelle Gregg’s negligence. And while the world has roared at each other with angry voices and calls for justice, we have all been watching and waiting to see what would happen next.

The answer came today when Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters made his public announcement that no charges would be filed in connection with Michelle Gregg and her son’s tumble into Harambe’s enclosure.

“By all accounts, this mother did not act in any way where she presented this child to some harm,” said Deters. “She had three other children with her and she turned her back. If anyone doesn’t believe a 3-year-old cannot scamper off quickly, they have never had kids, because they can.”

And I couldn’t agree more. You see, like many others, I too took to the Internet when I saw what was unfolding; and I too voiced my opinion on the matter, sharing my thoughts in a personal Facebook post:

“First off, let me say that I cried when I saw the video,” I wrote. “I cried for the terrified little boy, and I cried for his even more terrified mother. Then I cried because Harambe, a BEAUTIFUL gorilla, lost his life through no fault of his own and that actually makes me sick.”

“But do you know what else makes me sick? The rage that people are aiming at the mother; calling for authorities to remove all the children from her care, demanding that she pay for what she did, petitioning to have her fired from her job, and ripping apart every detail of who they assume she is.”

“Because really, who is she?”

“Quite frankly, she could have been me.”

And not only could she have been me, but she could have been any one of us. Multiple people, including Gregg, stated that Isaiah had his hand on his mother while she took a picture, and when she momentarily turned to comfort her other crying child, she looked up to realize her son was gone. According to the Washington Post, witness Deirdre Lykins confirmed that even before Isaiah fell into the enclosure, Gregg noticed he was missing and became panicked while asking people around her to help look for him, saying, “I only let go of his hand for a minute.”

Additional witnesses also confirm that it all happened in an instant. As Kimberley Ann Perkins O’Connor stated, “Her attention was drawn away for seconds, maybe a minute, and then he was up and in before you knew it.” And even more people confirmed that there was almost no climbing involved before the boy fell in, because the fencing was short and Isaiah more or less “flopped” himself over.

“It happened so fast,” another witness, Brittany Nicely, told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

She was panicked and looking for him, not sitting on a bench eating Cheetos and playing Words With Friends. And yet a tragedy still occurred.
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As a parent, I know exactly how fast these things can happen, and that is why I firmly believe that this could have happened to ANYONE. Isaiah’s mother let go of his hand to take care of another child, not play on her phone — and he made his escape, as children so often do. She was panicked and looking for him, not sitting on a bench eating Cheetos and playing Words With Friends. And yet a tragedy still occurred.

Gregg, faced with absorbing the blame of this entire situation, has issued a public apology and acknowledged the tragic loss of Harambe’s life and the grieving that this incident has caused, sharing that, “some have offered money, 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.”

Yet here I’ve sat, watching the world call for her blood to be spilled with Harambe’s, and as the parent of my own rambunctious 4-year-old boy, I’ve selfishly been thinking of myself while I waited with baited breath to see what legal problems would befall her for her one moment of distraction. Because really, this could have been any of us, and if our children could be removed from our homes and we could be jailed for the one moment of distraction that our kids seize as their own, I fear that many of my friends and I would not have any children left to parent by the end of next year and we might all be sitting in jail, because we all get distracted.

We all have moments where our kids outsmart us, and slip away from our view in an instant — because we are only human.
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I don’t care how many people are under the assumption that they are perfect and they do everything right, we all have moments where our kids outsmart us, and slip away from our view in an instant — because we are only human. We as parents, have all encountered situations where we do things and think to ourselves “yea, that probably wasn’t the brightest idea.” And we all have moments where our kids do things and we think “yea, I did not see that coming.”

We aren’t talking about a mother who made the conscious decision to hurt her son or anyone around him. We aren’t talking about a parent who made a series of bad choices that led to someone getting hurt, and we aren’t talking about a mother that blatantly neglected her parenting skills and caused mayhem in the process.

We are talking about that one moment in life where something unexpected happens in an instant, and your world flips upside down. If you are lucky, you get the chance to try again tomorrow. Unfortunately for Gregg, her moment was much more catastrophic than most of ours, but that doesn’t mean that she should lose her children because of it.

“This happened so quickly, according to the witnesses, that there’s nothing the mother could have done,” said Prosecutor Deters.

Every day we spend as parents, we’re confronted with situations that could unfold in a million different ways, and the best that we can do is to try and assess, prioritize, and hope for the best. Gregg momentarily shifted her focus to the child that she felt needed her immediate attention, and in that one moment, Isaiah seized the opportunity to use as his own. I can’t imagine a world where our children’s mischievous behavior would have the ability to terminate their parent’s parental rights, because in that world, none of us would still be parents.

None of us are perfect, and the only difference between Gregg and most of us, is that in our moments of inevitable human distraction, we have so far been luckier.

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