THE BLOG
05/31/2016 10:59 am ET Updated Jun 01, 2017

The Cincinnati Zoo Mother Deserves Empathy, Not Judgment

Kimberly O'Connor/ViralHog

A trending news story right now is a tragic one, as most seem to be these days. In Cincinnati, a 4-year old boy fell into a gorilla enclosure at the zoo, and after being dragged around by the 400-pound gorilla for 10 minutes, the zoo made the decision to shoot and kill him. The gorilla, not the child. Much to the general public's dismay, apparently.

It is a horrible situation, but even more upsetting to me is the public backlash that has taken place since the incident happened. People across the world (and my Facebook newsfeed) are commenting, posting, tweeting and using any social media platform available to post their disgust. Many are saying things like, "They should have let the boy die, it would teach a lesson to that mother who let him go into the enclosure. It wasn't the gorilla's fault." Some are choosing less blatant remarks and are instead posting memes or sharing articles, devoid of their own commentary but dripping with fury at the zoo's decision and neglectful mother.

I get that people are pissed, I really do. My first thought after reading the breaking headline was, "How could a parent let that happen?! I can't believe that poor gorilla was killed." I feel nauseated thinking about the death of a beautiful and endangered animal because of a parent's mistake. But the keyword here is mistake.

Do you not think it was the absolute worst moment of that mother's life, realizing her child was in the arms of a 400-pound gorilla?

Do you not think it was the absolute worst moment of that mother's life, realizing her child was in the arms of a 400-pound gorilla? Can you imagine watching someone you love in the deathly grip of a predator, being thrown around like a rag doll, and standing by helplessly? Everyone knows how (creepily) obsessed I am with my dog, but if she were for some God-awful reason viciously attacking my nephew or niece, I would not think twice about ending her life to save theirs. A human life, while not on the endangered species list by any means, is worth saving over an animal's in a life-threatening situation. The line may blur for me a little bit if it is a grown adult who jumped into the enclosure (spare the animal?), but this is a child we are talking about. A little person who may still wet the bed on occasion, and is afraid of the dark. A human whose brain is still very undeveloped.

What amazes me is the lack of empathy I have witnessed among the masses. It nauseates me even more than thinking about the death of an animal. I LOVE animals. I would rather see a human killed in a movie than an animal. I admittedly like animals more than 95 percent of people I've met. It's not an issue about whether or not we value the life of an animal or human more; it's about doing what is so obviously right in an impossibly difficult situation -- regardless of how that situation came to fruition.

To those people who are suggesting that the gorilla shouldn't have been shot: are you suggesting that the zookeepers should have let the situation "play out"? Maybe he kills the boy, maybe he doesn't? That's not an option, in my opinion. Not when the life of a 4-year old boy is at stake. Tranquilize him, you say? Imagine how pissed that gorilla would have been if he had gotten shot with a tranquilizer. He would then have several minutes before the sedative took effect- what do you think would have happened to the child?

It's not an issue about whether or not we value the life of an animal or human more; it's about doing what is so obviously right in an impossibly difficult situation.

What is even crazier to me is the amount of angry, hate-spewing people who have children of their own! I don't believe for one second that any of them would say "let's just see how this situation plays out" if their child were the one in the gorilla cage. And save your, "I would never let this happen" claims. Not one person I know is without a lapse in judgment or guilty of a purely bad decision from time to time. Sometimes nothing disastrous happens and everyone is very lucky. Sometimes horribly unfortunate circumstances take place.

What happened to empathy?

Are all you parents out there completely free from mistakes when it comes to the safety and health of your children? Have none of you ever left your young child watching cartoons while you are showering, in desperate need of a 5-minute break? Because you see, most of the time, it's fine. Your child, glued to the TV, is right where you left him when you return from the shower. But what if one time, he decided to venture outside. And crossing the street, he got hit by a car. And instead of other humans showing a morsel of empathy for a situation that is tragic and awful, millions of people instead chimed in with, "How could a mom leave her son alone while she showered? She should be killed."

Think about the parents who have forgotten about a child in a carseat on a hot summer day. A mom who walked away from the bathtub for 3 minutes, and came back to a lifeless child. A dad who forgot to read an ingredient label and gave his child a food containing his severe allergy.

Mistakes happen.

They are sometimes preventable, sometimes not. Regardless, they are always easy to judge when it's not your mistake that took place. And again, if you have the audacity to say, "I would never let this happen," I pray you have someone to hold your hand and tell you "mistakes happen" when something terrible and preventable happens on your watch someday. When people on the outside are judging and threatening -- people who have no connection to your or your family. We are all human. Mistakes happen.

Mistakes happen. They are sometimes preventable, sometimes not. ... We are all human.

It's okay to be angry about the gorilla dying. It's okay to be furious that a mother let her son out of her sight long enough for him to fall into the enclosure. It's okay to be pissed that the zoo made the decision to shoot the gorilla. It's okay to feel all these feelings in unison, and still decide to not say hateful, holier-than-thou things about the people actually involved. The ones who are undoubtedly in mourning today. The zookeepers who lost a beloved animal and friend. The mother who nearly lost a son, and is now facing the harassment of millions of people.

If you're angry, use that as fuel to incite change. Maybe the zoo should create safer animal enclosures. Maybe gorillas shouldn't be in zoos at all. Maybe zoo-goers should be required to attend an animal and zoo safety seminar before wandering around the park and large animal exhibits. Maybe kids under 8 should be required to wear one of those backpack leash things? Okay, that one is purely selfish. I secretly love seeing kids on leashes, being walked in public like little rabid Jack Russell Terriers. Whatever you believe, outside of thinking the mom shouldn't have made a mistake, let that fuel your drive.

A woman who was at the zoo and witnessed the whole incident posted on Facebook yesterday what I believe is an important read:

My family and I decided to go to the zoo yesterday after visiting my niece at Cincinnati Children's hospital. For those of you that have already heard, there was a terrible accident there yesterday. And since every news media has covered this story, I don't feel bad telling our side. This was an accident!! A terrible accident, but just that! My husband's voice is the voice talking to the child in one of the videos. I was taking a pic of the female gorilla, when my eldest son yells, "what is he doing? " I looked down, and to my surprise, there was a small child that had apparently, literally "flopped" over the railing, where there was then about 3 feet of ground that the child quickly crawled through!!

I assumed the woman next to me was the mother, getting ready to grab him until she says, "Whose kid is this? " None of us actually thought he'd go over the nearly 15 foot drop, but he was crawling so fast through the bushes before myself or husband could grab him, he went over! The crowd got a little frantic and the mother was calling for her son. Actually, just prior to him going over, but she couldn't see him crawling through the bushes! She said "He was right here! I took a pic and his hand was in my back pocket and then gone!"

As she could find him nowhere, she lookes to my husband (already over the railing talking to the child) and asks, "Sir, is he wearing green shorts? " My husband reluctantly had to tell her yes, when she then nearly had a break down! They are both wanting to go over into the 15 foot drop, when I forbade my husband to do so, and attempted to calm the mother by calling 911 and assure her help was on the way. Neither my husband or the mother would have made that jump without breaking something! I wasn't leaving with my boys, because I didn't trust my husband not to jump in and the gorilla did just seem to be protective of the child. It wasn't until the gorilla became agitated because of the noisy, dramatic, helpless crowd; that the gorilla violently ran with the child! And it was very violent; although I think the gorilla was still trying to protect, we're taking a 400 lb gorilla throwing a 40 lb toddler around! It was horrific!

The zoo responded very quickly, clearing the area and attempting to save both the child and the gorilla! The right choice was made. Thank God the child survived with non-life threatening, but serious injuries! This was an open exhibit! Which means the only thing separating you from the gorillas, is a 15 ish foot drop and a moat and some bushes!! This mother was not negligent and the zoo did an awesome job handling the situation! Especially since that had never happened before! ! Thankful for the zoo and their attempts and my thoughts and prayers goes out to this boy, his mother and his family.

"He was right here! I took a pic and his hand was in my back pocket and then gone!"

We have all been there. We may all be there someday. Practice empathy, not superiority.

Practice love, not hate.

A version of this post originally appeared on The Other Courtney.