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Crime

Cincinnati Police Investigating 'Circumstances' That Led to Endangered Gorilla's Shooting Death

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Kimberley O Connor/ViralHog

Police are investigating a weekend incident at the Cincinnati Zoo which prompted zookeepers to shoot a 17-year-old endangered gorilla to death, PEOPLE confirms.

A Cincinnati Police Department spokeswoman tells PEOPLE that detectives are “looking at the facts and circumstances” that led a 4-year-old boy to plummet into the zoo’s gorilla exhibit.

After his 12-foot fall, the child was grabbed up by the 450-pound animal, who is named Harambe, and dragged around the enclosed exhibit.

The police spokeswoman tells PEOPLE a “thorough review” is underway into the “facts and circumstances that led to this 4-year-old falling into this enclosure.”

Upon the conclusion of their review, the spokeswoman says law enforcement authorities will likely determine whether criminal charges should be filed against the boy’s parents.

The spokeswoman tells PEOPLE there is no “specified timeframe” for the review, but added the investigation should wrap up before the weekend.

“Obviously, our goal is the safety of the children who visit the zoo,” the spokeswoman says. “That is why we’re conducting a review like this – to look at all the facts and the circumstances in this matter.”

In a statement issued Tuesday morning, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters confirmed the investigation was initiated by the Cincinnati Police Department, and that “once their investigation is concluded, they will confer with our office on possible criminal charges.”

The gorilla’s death has sparked outrage on social media, with critics blasting the child’s mother for taking her eyes off of him.

But the boy’s mom, Michelle Gregg, took to Facebook to defend herself in a now-deleted post, writing: “God protected my child until the authorities were able to get to him. My son is safe and was able to walk away with a concussion and a few scrapes no broken bones or internal injuries.”

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Gregg continued, “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. Accidents happen ”

Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard, who says the zoo will not be pressing charges against the family, has defended the decision to shoot and kill Harambe.

“The idea of waiting and shooting it with a hypodermic was not a good idea. That would have definitely created alarm in the male gorilla. When you dart an animal, anesthetic doesn’t work in one second, it works over a period of a few minutes to 10 minutes. The risk was due to the power of that animal.”

He added, “Everyone should keep hold of their kids. Here, the mall, the schoolyard. But the zoo is a safe place.”

A vigil for Harambe was held near the front entrance to the zoo on Monday afternoon and people have been leaving flowers, notes and pictures in memory of the animal around a gorilla statue on the premises.

Animal activists created an online petition requiring 300,000 signatures called “Justice for Harambe,” that will be used to encourage the Cincinnati Zoo, Child Protection Services and Cincinnati Police Department to hold the parents accountable for Harambe’s death.