"We extend our heartfelt thanks for the quick action by the Cincinnati Zoo staff," the statement says
Credit: Kimberley O Connor/ViralHog

The family of the 4-year-old boy whose fall into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo on Saturday led to the animal being shot dead has issued a statement thanking the zoo staff for their “quick action.”

“We are so thankful to the Lord that our child is safe,” a family spokeswoman said in a statement to WLWT. “He is home and doing just fine.”

The statement continues to thank the Zoo staff for making the “difficult decision” to shoot the gorilla.

“We extend our heartfelt thanks for the quick action by the Cincinnati Zoo staff. We know that this was a very difficult decision for them and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla,” the statement reads.

Many have questioned the zoo’s decision to shoot the 450-pound male gorilla named Harambe rather than sedate him with a tranquilizer gun. A petition encouraging the Cincinnati Zoo, Hamilton County Child Protection Services and the Cincinnati Police Department to hold the parents responsible has also gained over many supporters.

The zoo released a statement on Saturday from park director Thane Maynard who explained, “We are heartbroken about losing Harambe, but a child’s life was in danger and a quick decision had to be made by our Dangerous Animal Response Team.”

Maynard said that tranquilizing Harambe was not a viable option because “tranquilizers do not take effect for several minutes and the child was in imminent danger. On top of that, the impact from the dart could agitate the animal and cause the situation to get much worse.

The zoo said that Harambe was violently dragging and throwing the boy who climbed through a public barrier at the Gorilla World enclosure and fell 15 feet into the exhibit’s moat.

Some onlookers shared a different perspective. Emily Nicely, who was present for the encounter, said that the gorilla appeared to be “protecting” the young boy.

“The gorilla wasn’t hitting him, wasn’t hurting him. He was curious. He was checking him out, looking at his hands,” she told ABC News. “The gorilla was not, in my eyes being harmful. However, it is a 400-pound gorilla … so his intentions of not harming him still may have because of the size difference.”

The zoo’s statement did little to quell online critics who have also targeted the 4-year-old boy’s mother, Michelle Gregg. Many have argued that she should have been paying more attention to her son. Gregg took to Facebook to defend herself in a post that has since been deleted.

“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 wrote. Accidents happen but I am thankful that the right people were in the right place today.”