Terry Thompson Zanesville Ohio
There were thousands of stories published in the wake of the Zanesville massacre, but so far this has been the most revealing.
Terry Thompson, the Ohio man who authorities say set his exotic animals free just before killing himself, once supplied a lion cub for a photo shoot with supermodel Heidi Klum.
“I wrote a letter to Heidi Klum’s people,” said Larry Hostetler, the executive director of the Animal Shelter Society of Muskingum County. “I strongly voiced my opinion that if they’re going to hire animals for entertainment, they might want to check handlers’ backgrounds — that Terry Thompson had been convicted of animal cruelty.
“Of course, I never heard anything back.”
Thompson and his wild animal farm had long been on authorities’ radar. Thompson had been kicked out of the local pet fair for bringing exotic animals that snarled at children. He had been convicted in November 2005 of animal cruelty, allowing an animal to roam freely and rendering animal waste without a license.
He had even threatened to let all his animals go when investigators visited after repeated calls of animal abuse or neglect.
But while investigators kept a close eye on him, Thompson professed his love for his animals to most anyone. He would often be seen driving down the road with a wild animal.
“My cats are happier than most people,” Thompson once told the Zanesville Times-Recorder. “I feed them every day, and they have a great place to live. How many people can say they have all they can eat and don’t have to worry about a place to live?”
In a 2008 video in New York, Thompson is seen smiling, holding a cub and handing it over to model Klum. CNN has asked her agent and publicist for comment, but has not gotten any response.
Yet on Tuesday, a strained marriage collided with the stress and the expense of caring for so many animals, people close to the investigation told CNN.
“He was so depressed he said, ‘That’s it. I’m going to let them go,’” said Columbus Zoo director emeritus Jack Hanna, who helped authorities in the search for the wild animals.
The 62-year-old Thompson had been released from prison in recent weeks after serving a year behind bars on an illegal firearms conviction.
Authorities say Thompson unlocked his animal cages, opened the farm’s gates and shot himself to death.
Thompson freed dozens of exotic animals — from Bengal tigers to grizzly bears to baboons — setting off a frightening scenario outside Zanesville, a town of 25,000 in central Ohio. Authorities killed at least 49 animals, including 18 rare tigers.
“What happened here was one of the largest animal escapes in our country’s history,” said Hanna.
Sheriff Matt Lutz defended his officers, saying they had no choice but to kill the roaming animals. “I had deputies that had to shoot animals with sidearms at close range. That’s how volatile this situation was.”
Thompson was known as a flamboyant, volatile man. The sheriff’s department had been to the property on dozens of occasions over the last decade to check into reports of animal cruelty or animals on the loose.
Thompson would stare down those who entered his property with his steely blue eyes. He’d cuss and scream.
“I’ll be damned,” Thompson would shout, according to county Humane Officer David Durst. “I’ll let them animals go!”
“He was definitely a different breed,” said Durst, who investigates every case of animal cruelty in the county.
“We were just afraid that this was going to happen. It wasn’t a matter of if it was going to happen, it was a matter of when.”
Durst said Thompson would often buy his exotic animals from people in other states and offer to host them on his property for vacation. “They’d visit and see the situation and they’d freak out and they’d call me,” he said. “They’d say, ‘I was horrified.’”
In the last year, even while Thompson was imprisoned on the weapons charges, Durst said he got at least one call a month about animals roaming loose.
Every time he visited Thompson’s farm, Durst was escorted by at least three sheriff’s deputies because he feared for his safety.
He said local authorities had alerted the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state representatives and other power players about their fears concerning Thompson and his wild animals.
“And now we’re dealing with this.”
Hostetler with the Animal Shelter Society said Thompson was an animal collector who had a horrible reputation for the treatment of his animals.
“It’s been a nightmare out there for a decade,” Hostetler said. “I never thought he’d do something like he’s done. But I knew eventually something bad would happen out there.”
Hostetler said Thompson would bring his wild animals to the shelter’s annual pet fair, where people bring their dogs and cats. Thompson showed up once with bear cubs, once with tiger cubs and another time with a baby ape. Children would rush toward the exotic animals. “The animals were growling and snarling back at the children,” Hostetler said.
Every year, officials would ask Thompson to leave the fair. He’d argue it was his right to bring his animals. It got so testy that officials eventually changed the rules just to keep Thompson and his animals away. Now, only domestic house pets are welcome.
Durst and Hostetler said officials had tried to get state and federal authorities to take control of the animals while Thompson was imprisoned in the last year.
“We were trying and trying to get help,” Durst said. “Hopefully a tragedy like this will get the ball rolling with the state of Ohio and the ownership of exotic animals.
“The laws are so weak in Ohio, it’s ridiculous. You can have one permit and pretty much have all the exotic animals you want.”
Added Hostetler: “For me the sad part of this is that the court system could’ve removed those animals, and it’s really sad it reached this point.”
The Humane Society of the United States urged Ohio officials Wednesday to issue an emergency rule to crack down on exotic animal ownership. A previous emergency order issued by then-Gov. Ted Strickland that prohibited people convicted of animal cruelty from owning exotic animals expired in April.
The Humane Society said Thompson “would almost certainly have had his animals removed by May 1, 2011, if the emergency order had not expired.”
When he was first sentenced to animal cruelty charges in 2005, Thompson told the judge: “I’ve learned a lot from this case, and I do love my animals.”
Investigators have learned a lot from Thompson too, and must now contemplate what could have been done to stop Tuesday’s tragedy.
Timeline of Abuse
Terry Thompson buys his first baby lion cub, named Simba, as a birthday present for his wife, Marian.
Thompson attends an exotic animal auction in Mount Hope. At the time, he told the Times Recorder: “My cats are happier than most people. I feed them every day, and they have a great place to live. How many people can say they have all they can eat and don’t have to worry about a place to live.”
Thompson is arrested and accused of torturing the cattle, bison and a Brahma bull at his Boggs Road property. He is charged with one count of abuse, a second-degree misdemeanor, and cattle-at-large, a fourth-degree misdemeanor.
Later that month, Muskingum County sheriff’s deputies execute a search warrant at Thompson’s Kopchak Road farm looking for evidence of animal cruelty. Authorities said the search was for bodies of three cattle that supposedly died at the Boggs Road property. The carcasses were found, and samples were collected to be sent to an Ohio Department of Agriculture laboratory to determine cause of death.
A jury convicts Thompson on one count of having animals at large, two counts of rendering animal waste and one count of cruelty to animals. The rendering animal waste charges stem from Thompson transporting animal parts without a license to Phillips Meat Processing, Assistant Prosecutor Ron Welch said at the time. Muskingum County Judge Jay Vinsel sentenced Thompson to six months of house arrest and fined him $2,870.
Officers with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives raid the Kopchak Road property and confiscate 133 guns. Special Agent Kim Riddell, public information officer from the Columbus Field Division Office, calls Thompson a former federal firearms licensee, or gun dealer, who did not renew his license.
After a February federal indictment, Thompson pleads not guilty to one count of possession of machine guns, one count of failure to register machine guns, one count of having guns with no serial number and two counts of forfeiture.
After a hearing in July, U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley grants a motion to suppress the evidence taken from the Thompson home. Thompson’s defense attorney, David Winters, sought the motion because law enforcement did not “knock and enter” and failed to supply the Thompsons with a copy of the search warrant before entering their home.
After a request from the U.S. Attorney’s office, Marbley reverses his ruling and allows the guns and ammunition taken from the property to be entered as evidence.
Terry Thompson pleads guilty to possessing a machine gun, possessing a gun without a serial number and two counts of forfeiture.
Marian Thompson sues the ATF, seeking at least $75,000 for busting into her home and leaving her with only a shirt on while they searched the house for more than five hours. The lawsuit still is pending.
Terry Thompson is sentenced to one year and a day in prison on the federal gun charges.
Sept. 30, 2011
Terry Thompson is released from prison.
At about 5:30 p.m. the Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office receives two calls reporting wild animals loose on Terry Thompson’s Kopchak Road property. Deputies arrive and discover Thompson is dead and the animals, including lions, tigers, bears, wolves and monkeys, are running loose. Kopchak Road is closed as officers begin shooting the animals to prevent them from leaving the property and getting out near the nearby residences .
Sheriff Matt Lutz recommends some local schools — West Muskingum, Maysville and Zanesville — close, and they all do so for the next day’s classes.
The sheriff’s office begins to consult with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and the Wilds about containing the animals. At the time, authorities think about 48 animals are on the property but have no full accounting.
Deputies equipped with assault rifles patrol the area looking for animals. They patrol throughout the night.
Media outlets from across the state and the country pour into Muskingum County to cover what became a worldwide story.
Lutz confirms that initial autopsy reports show Thompson died of a self-inflicted gunshot. Deputies think Thompson released the animals before committing suicide, but no note was left to explain his actions.
Throughout the morning, authorities continue to account for the animals on the property and begin recovering the dead animals.
Marian Thompson, who was not home when her husband killed himself, arrives at the farm. She speaks with the zoo’s Jack Hanna, who described her as being distraught as she begged him not to take her animals.
Lutz confirms six of the 56 animals on the property were to be taken to the Columbus Zoo.
“We’re only taking them to the zoo to look after them and care for them until she can figure out what she can do,” Hanna says. “She truly loves those animals and this is devastating for her. She just lost her husband, and now she’s lost the only family she has. It’s tragic.”
Marian’s attorney Dean Wilson says Marian Thompson helped zoo employees crate and load the remaining animals.
“The minute she walked into the house, the monkeys just ran to her,” Wilson says. “She’s completely cooperated with the sheriff’s office and zoo and wants what is best for her animals. Like Hanna said, these were her children.”
By the end of the day, Lutz says 48 animals were killed by the sheriff’s office — one was missing and one was eaten by other animals.
In interviews and reports after the incident, deputies describe the situation at and near the property.
Deputy Wade Kanavel had been on the property only a few minutes when he saw a large lion burst through a fence, making a beeline toward Kopchak Road.
“Without hesitation I then started firing rounds into the animal to keep it from attacking and getting away from my location,” Kanavel wrote in a report detailing the incident.
The deputy then walked two houses down from Thompson’s property, where he stumbled upon a mountain lion “that began hissing and showing his teeth at me.”
Kanavel shot the mountain lion as well, and then another lion that was running toward a pen full of horses.
Deputy Jonathan Merry told the Times Recorder he was seven feet away from being attacked by a black bear. Merry said he saw a Bengal tiger, a lioness and two black bears just inside the livestock fence on the Thompson property.
“I’m talking about just a livestock fence,” Merry said. “Not a razor wire fence or a heavy-duty fence. Just a small fence that was not about to keep those animals inside the property.”
Deputy Todd Kanavel told the Times Recorder that killing the animals was upsetting.
“It was scary out there in the dark knowing those animals were roaming around. But what’s scarier is the thought that one of those big cats or bears could get hold of a child. We’re all upset about this. It’s not a happy situation at all.”
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources clarifies Ohio’s rules concerning exotic animals.
In his final days as governor, Ted Strickland, as part of a deal that resulted in the Ohio Livestock Standards Board, issued an executive order prohibiting the ownership or trading of certain species, deemed “dangerous wild animals.”
The language of the order would have made Thompson’s animal sanctuary illegal because of his conviction for cruelty to animals.
However, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources never sought to enforce the rule, which expired in April without an extension by Gov. John Kasich. His spokesman called the rule “pure sloppiness.”
The department has no enforcement powers pertaining to the ownership of non-native species, which basically means animals that wouldn’t be found naturally in Ohio, according to the department’s lead attorney. The U.S. Department of Agriculture only regulates exotic or dangerous animal welfare if the owner is looking to breed, exhibit or sell these creatures.
In fact, the state can’t tell you whether your family is living next to a facility such as that operated by Thompson. Ohio doesn’t know how many of these self-proclaimed rescue operations exist, said Scott Zody, interim director of the ODNR.
“That’s part of the dilemma,” he said. “These types of animals and animal ownership have been relatively unregulated, unless you are an exhibitor or breeder.”
Billy White, owner of Yellow Rose Tattoo on Maysville Pike, begins setting aside the proceeds from tattoos of exotic animals, such as lions, tigers, bears, cheetahs and wolves, to donate to the zoo specifically for the care and expenses of the six rescued animals being housed at the zoo.
Lutz tells the media the final monkey that was missing most likely was eaten by other animals. He says they might never know why Thompson released them.
Sheriff’s office releases old reports on dealings at Thompson’s farm. The reports deal with animals being loose or animal cruelty, but not with the exotic animals he owned. The reports dealt with the horses and other animals.
Later that day, Kasich signs an executive order to step up enforcement of Ohio’s existing animal laws and pursue new ones to limit private ownership of dangerous animals.
Kasich says the state has agreed to work with the zoos to house any confiscated animals found to be living in substandard conditions. He also has orders the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to set up a hot line for residents to report animal abuse.
If a resident wants to keep a species native to Ohio, such as bears, they must be registered with the department. Zody said officials will review current permits and begin inspecting premises where registered animals are kept.
There is no law requiring Ohioans to register non-native species, such as tigers. The department had formed a task force looking into this issue. Kasich moves up its deadline to report back to Nov. 30.
Concerned about exotic animals in his county, Perry County Sheriff Randy Barker visits a Mount Perry home, which once had some of Terry Thompson’s animals and still has exotic animals of its own.
Barker visited the Township Road 106 home of Andrea Morris on Oct. 21, and said he saw four bears and four lions — two males and two females — in cages that concerned him. He said Morris previously had told them she had housed some of Thompson’s lions and bears but was not doing so at that time.
“I understand that Ms. Morris wants to help these animals,” Barker said. “I believe she wants to do the best she can for them, but my main concern is reassuring the residents in this county that none of these animals can or will escape.”
The bears and cats are kept in cages with fencing or wood, Barker said.
Lutz reacts to the attention his office has received.
“When I gave that order, I wasn’t thinking about the animals,” Lutz said. “I was thinking about the public and their safety. I know I would do nothing different today.”
Billy White, owner of Yellow Rose Tattoo on Maysville Pike, raises more than $2,000 with wildlife tattoos and monetary donations.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals conducts a small protest in front of the Ohio Statehouse. Eleven people hand out handwritten fliers calling for an outright ban on the ownership of wild animals in Ohio.
Marian Thompson’s attorneys tell the Columbus Zoo she wants her animals back.
Shortly before her arrival, Ohio Department of Agriculture Director James Zehringer orders the animals quarantined because the three leopards, two Celebes macaque monkeys and a grizzly bear might be infected.
The Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office, dispatch center and substation receive almost 300 letters, emails and cards expressing appreciation for the sheriff and his office’s response to the exotic animals incident.
Marian Thompson’s attorney tells the Times Recorder she is weighing her options when it comes to her six animals being kept at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium tells the Times Recorder the six animals that remain are being well cared for and about $38,000 has been donated for their care.
Kasich urges the group looking at drafting new laws for exotic animals to work quickly to avoid an incident similar to Zanesville’s from happening again.
The group faces a Nov. 30 deadline to make recommendations for updating Ohio’s laws.
Ohio’s state veterinarian says testing on the six remaining animals will not start for weeks.
The office of state Sen. Troy Balderson, R-Zanesville, said he intends to pursue legislation as soon as Kasich’s task force makes its recommendations.
In newly released documents, Tom Stalf, a Columbus Zoo and Aquarium employee, describes conditions at Thompson’s farm:
» Primates were kept in bird cages littered with garbage and feces.
» Bengal tigers were kept in cages about 6 feet tall, 8 feet wide and 15 feet deep, inadequate for their species, he said.
» The grizzly bear now at the zoo was found in a large, opened bird cage in a drained backyard pool, “aggressively chewing on the cage.”
“The condition of the animals in Zanesville was horrific,” he said.
The documents also revealed the escape cost the Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office about $8,500.
Four men and a teenage boy accused of trying to steal a dead lion in October are charged with misdemeanor theft. No reason for why the men tried to take the carcass was given.
From staff and wire reports at http://www.zanesvilletimesrecorder.com/article/20111118/NEWS01/111180304/Timeline-events-surrounding-Terry-Thompson-s-exotic-animal-farm