No charges for family of boy who fell in gorilla enclosure

Last Updated Jun 6, 2016 2:07 PM EDT

CINCINNATI - The family of the boy who fell into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo will not face criminal charges, the prosecutor investigating the case announced.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, in officially announcing the decision in a statement Monday, said the child's mother had three other children with her, and she was attending to them when the 3-year-old "just scampered off."

"Had she been in the bathroom smoking crack and let her kids run around the zoo, that'd be a different story, but that's not what was happening here," Deters said at a press conference announcing his decision.

The incident, which resulted in the shooting death of 17-year-old Harambe the gorilla, has captured worldwide attention. Many have expressed outrage that a Western Lowland Gorilla -- of which only a few remain in the world -- was killed, and called for the family and/or the zoo to be held accountable.

"None of the witnesses interviewed described the mother as anything but attentive to her children," Deters said, adding that the mother had "turned away for a few seconds to attend to another one of her young children," when the boy entered the enclosure.

Additionally, the zoo itself won't be facing any charges, the prosecutor said.

"The zoo did the right thing when they took immediate action to save the life of a young child," Deters' said.

The boy's family, which has not been identified, released a statement after the announcement, praising the prosecutors decision to not press charges, saying "it is what we expected."

"This is one more step in allowing us to put this tragic episode behind us and return to our normal family life," the family said.

The incident in question happened May 28 after the 3-year-old boy climbed through a public barrier at the Gorilla World exhibit.

Kim O'Connor said just moments before she shot video of the incident, she heard the young boy and mom arguing.

"I'm going to go in" ... "No you're not" ... "I'm going to go in" ... "No you're not," said O'Connor.

And then there was a splash.

In describing the incident, Cincinnati Zoo director Thane Maynard said the boy initially fell about 15 feet into a shallow moat at the edge of the enclosure, and people outside it began making a commotion, which attracted Harambe's attention.

The Cincinnati boy was originally said to be four, not three.

Zoo keepers, when they realized what was happening, called the other gorillas in the enclosure over to leave the open area, and while Harambe normally responds well to keeper's demands, he was "excited" and "distracted" by the boy's presence, and therefore was the only animal to not listen.

"Gorillas are not polar bears," Maynard said. "He wasn't trying to eat the child."

Despite what appeared to be a curiosity on Harambe's part, Maynard said the decision was taken to put the more than 400-pound gorilla down because "the risk was due to the power of that animal."

"This child was being dragged around," Maynard said. "His head was banging on concrete."

The boy spent about 10 minutes alone with Harambe before its dangerous animal emergency squad took the gorilla down with a single shot.

Afterwards, outrage was quick to spread, especially online, but Maynard and other officials pushed back against detractors.

"I think they know we saved that little boy's life," Maynard said. "We stand by our decision."

The zoo says it was the first such breach in Gorilla World's 38 years of existence, but the exhibit will reopen Tuesday with a higher, reinforced barrier.