Thursday: Farm Owner In Muskingum County Died Of Self-Inflicted Gunshot Wound

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Update Thursday 10:30 a.m.

The owner of a private animal farm near Zanesville died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

That is according to Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz.

He made the announcement during a 10 a.m. news conference.

Investigators say Terry Thompson released 56 exotic animals from their cages Tuesday night and then killed himself.

His body was found in the driveway of his 73-acre property off of Kopchak Road.

49 of the animals are dead.  48 of the them were shot by sheriff's deputies and one was killed by one of the other animals.

Six of the animals have been transported to the Columbus Zoo.

One animal is still unaccounted for but, Lutz says the investigators believe that monkey was also killed and eaten by the other animals.

"We have had no reported sightings of the this animal," says Lutz. "There's a high probablity it was eaten by one of the cats."

Lutz says Thompson had a prior criminal record, which included animal violations.  He says all the information on Thompson's prior record will be posted on the sheriff's department website tomorrow morning.

Lutz says they still don't know why Thompson released the animals and killed himself.

"I don't want to speculate on that," says Lutz. "Obviously when you take your own life, Mr. Thompson was not in the right state of mind."

Lutz says he spoke with Ohio Governor John Kasich on the phone last night about Ohio's lack of laws regarding private ownership of exotic animals.

He says Kasich expressed his support for the actions that were taken by the Muskingum County Sheriff's Department.

Lutz says a task force has already been formed at the state level to deal with the issue.  He says he was told something should be in place by the end of the year.

"I really think this is a bad situation…hopefully the action that has been taken here has a positive reaction by the end of the year." says Lutz.

Lutz says they are not worried about how much money it cost his department to handle this situation.  He says he is not worried about his future budget.

"I'm worried about our guys as far as reaction to this," says Lutz. "But we have good commissioners, so they'll get us the money."

The only animals that are left on the property are horses.

It hasn't been decided if Thompson's wife is going to get the animals that are at the zoo back. 

"Jack Hanna will be in communication with her," says Lutz.  "He's invited her to the Columbus Zoo to see the animals."

Lutz says, "You have to understand that these animals were like kids to her."

When asked what was going through his mind when he made the decision to shoot to kill, Lutz says, "The only thing that went through my mind was public safety."

"I'll do anything anything I have to do to make this not happen again," says Lutz.




Update: 7:49 a.m.

The Muskingum County sheriff says the last of dozens of exotic animals set free by its owner may have been eaten by one of the others.

The sheriff's office says that the search for a missing monkey was still active. But Sheriff Matt Lutz says the monkey may have met the same fate as another, which was eaten by a big cat.

Authorities say animal owner Terry Thompson killed himself Tuesday evening after opening the cages at his farm near Zanesville.

Lions, tigers, bears and other animals began scattering and police hunted them down. Eventually about 49 were killed.

Animal rights advocates say there was little police could do to save them.

Amid expressions of horror and revulsion at the killing of dozens of wild animals in Ohio – and photographs of their bloody carcasses – animal rights advocates agreed there was little local authorities could have done to save the dangerous creatures once
they began roaming the countryside after their owner released them before taking his own life.

Sheriff's deputies shot 18 rare Bengal tigers and 17 lions.

"What a tragedy," said veterinarian Barb Wolfe, of The Wilds animal preserve sponsored by the Columbus Zoo. "We knew that …there were so many dangerous animals at this place that eventually something bad would happen, but I don't think anybody really knew it would be this bad."

As the hunt winded down on Wednesday, a photo showing the remains of tigers, bears and lions lined up and scattered in an open field went viral provoking visceral reactions among viewers, some of whom expressed their anger and sadness on social networking sites.

Some local townspeople also were saddened by the deaths. At a nearby Moose Lodge, Bill Weiser said: "It's breaking my heart, them shooting those animals."

Authorities said the slain animals would be buried on Thompson's farm.

Will Travers, chief executive of the California-based Born Free USA animal welfare and wildlife conservation organization, said police had no choice but to take the action they did.

"It's a tragedy for these particular animals, for no fault of their own they've been shot, and I can see how difficult that decision was for the police," he said.

Jack Hanna, TV personality and former director of the Columbus Zoo, also defended the sheriff's decision to kill the animals, calling deaths of the endangered Bengal tigers especially tragic.

The animals destroyed also included six black bears, two grizzlies, a baboon, a wolf and three mountain lions. Six – three leopards, a grizzly bear and two monkeys – were captured and taken to the Columbus Zoo.

"It's like Noah's Ark wrecking right here in Zanesville, Ohio," Hanna said.

A wolf was later found dead, leaving a monkey as the only animal possibly still unaccounted for in the mostly rural community of farms, widely spaced homes and wooded areas about 55 miles east of Columbus.

While the sheriff's office said early Thursday that the search for the monkey was still active, Sheriff Matt Lutz said the animal may no longer be a concern.

"He was in an area where one of the cats actually killed one of the monkeys, and we feel he could have been eaten by one of the cats," said Lutz.

Officers were ordered to kill the animals instead of trying to bring them down with tranquilizers for fear that those hit with darts would escape in the darkness before they dropped and would later regain consciousness.

"These animals were on the move, they were showing aggressive behavior," Lutz said at a news conference. "Once the nightfall hit, our biggest concern was having these animals roaming."

Veterinarian Wolfe had tried to save a tiger in a heavy bramble by using a tranquilizer dart, but the animal charged her then tried to flee. It had to be shot and killed by sheriff's deputies.

"I was about 15 feet from him and took a shot, and it didn't respond too much, and I thought we were OK, but within about 10 seconds he roared and started toward me," she said.

Sheriff's Deputy Jonathan Merry, among the first to respond on Tuesday, said he shot a number of animals, including a gray wolf and a black bear who charged him from 7 feet away. He said he's an animal lover and only took pride in knowing he was protecting the community.

"All these animals have the ability to take a human out in the length of a second," he said.

The Humane Society of the United States criticized Gov. John Kasich for allowing a statewide ban on the buying and selling of exotic pets to expire in April and called for an emergency rule to crack down on exotic animals until the state comes up with a
permanent legal solution.

"Every month brings a new, bizarre, almost surreal incident involving privately-held, dangerous wild animals," Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society, said in a statement. "In recent years, Ohioans have died and suffered
injuries. … Owners of large, exotic animals are a menace to society, and it's time for the delaying on the rulemaking to end."

Activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals also called for emergency regulations and pointed the finger at Gov. John Kasich, saying the incident should serve as his "wake-up call."

"Surely, after this latest incident, enough blood has been shed for the state to take action," the group said in a statement.

Ohio has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets and among the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by them.

Born Free USA says it has tracked 1,500 attacks on humans or other animals, and escapes by exotic animals since 1990, with 86 being in Ohio. Travers said there's an urgent need for legislation that addresses the competency of Ohioans seeking to own exotic pets and owners' ability to provide for the animals' welfare as well as public safety.

"Legislation should be there to protect the animals from the people and to protect the people from the animals," he said.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said Wednesday the governor had called on Lutz to commend the job he had done and to ask him to be part of the process of putting into law what the executive order failed to do.

"Clearly, we need tougher laws. We haven't had them in this state. Nobody's dealt with this, and we will. And we'll deal with it in a comprehensive way," Kasich said earlier in the day at a meeting of Dix Communications editors at which The Associated Press
was present.

The Ohio Veterinary Medical Association also called for exotic animal regulations. U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland called the deaths of the escaped animals preventable.

"By enacting more stringent restrictions on owning exotic pets in Ohio, tragedies like this one can be avoided in the future," he said in a statement.

Thompson, 62, had had repeated run-ins with the law and his neighbors. Lutz said that the sheriff's office had received numerous complaints since 2004 about animals escaping onto neighbors' property. The sheriff's office also said that Thompson had been charged over the years with animal cruelty, animal neglect and allowing animals to roam.

He had gotten out of federal prison just last month after serving a year for possessing unregistered guns.

Thompson had rescued some of the animals at his preserve and purchased many others, said Columbus Zoo spokeswoman Patty Peters.

It was not immediately clear how Thompson managed to support the preserve and for what purpose it was operated, since it was not open to the public. But Thompson had appeared on the "Rachael Ray Show" in 2008 as an animal handler for a zoologist guest, said show spokeswoman Lauren Nowell.


Update: 5:20 a.m.A monkey is still on the loose this morning after 56 exotic animals escaped from their privately-owned Muskingum County farm Tuesday night.

Sheriff Matt Lutz says 49 of the 56 were killed by his officers.

Lutz says they plan to shoot the monkey once it is located because it could be carrying the Herpes B virus.
A veternarian working with the sheriff's department said the type of monkey can be aggressive and the virus is transmitted through a bite.  
She recommended no one try and approach the monkey.
Six of the animals were transported to the Columbus Zoo under the recommendation of zoologist Jack Hanna.

There is no new information this morning about the owner of the farm's death.  Terry Thompson's body was found in the driveway at the farm near Zanesville and the cages to the animal pens were open.

Investigators believe Thompson opened the cages and then committed suicide.

An autopsy is being performed on Thompson's body.

Animal rights advocates say there was little police could do to save the animals.

Animal advocates say the creatures were a danger to humans, although some people said they should have been saved.

The Humane Society of the United States has criticized Ohio Gov. John Kasich for allowing a statewide ban on the buying and selling of exotic pets to expire in April.

They urged him to enact emergency rules until the state comes up with a permanent legal solution.

Sheriff Lutz has scheduled a news conference for 10 a.m.



Update: 4:11 p.m.

Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz has released the 911 calls from last night in which two people, including a neighbor, report spotting animals near Kopchak Road.

Update: 3:51 p.m.

WSYX in Columbus is now reporting the wolf has been shot and killed and only the monkey remains on the loose.

Update: 3:40 p.m.

Muskingum County sheriff's deputies continue to search for a monkey and wolf after 56 exotic animals escaped from a farm after their owner allegedly freed them then committed suicide.
Sheriff Matt Lutz says 48 of the 56 escaped animals were killed by his officers.
That number includes 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, eight bears and a wolf. "These killings were senseless.  For our guys to have to do this was nonsense, it was just crazy," Lutz said. The dead animals will be buried on the property at the request of the deceased owner's wife, Marian Thompson.
Lutz says they plan to shoot the monkey once it is located because it could be carrying the Herpes B virus. A veternarian working with the sheriff's department said the type of monkey can be aggressive and the virus is transmitted through a bite.  She recommended no one try and approach the monkey.
Six of the animals were transported to the Columbus Zoo under the recommendation of zoologist Jack Hanna.
Lutz says when the search began last night, his officers faced the challenge of only having about a half an hour of daylight with which to search for the animals. He described the situation as very chaotic and said animals were visible from the roadway when his officers arrived at the farm. "We had some people try and steal a dead lion last night," he said.
Lutz said the deceased owner of the animals, Terry Thompson, did have a criminal record, including misdemeanor animal charges. "Terry pushed the envelope where law enforcement was concerned," he said.
Officials from both the Columbus Zoo and The Wilds nature preserve will work with the sheriff's department to construct a plan for capturing the remaining animals.
Lutz says they are also waiting on autopsy reports on Thompson.


Update: 12:35 p.m. 

The Ohio Department of Natural Resourses encourages outdoor enthusiasts in the area to avoid outdoor activity in and around Muskingum County.

A recent press advisory released by ODNR communications department stated, "Hunters, campers, hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts are advised to avoid outdoor activity in Muskingum, eastern Licking, northern Perry, northern Morgan, southern Coshocton and western Guernsey counties."
The advisory is in respones to the recent escape of dangerous, wild animals from the private facility in Muskingum County.
ODNR also asked that the public be on alert, and should an animal be sighted to stay away and report the sighting immediately to the Muskingum County Sheriff’s department at 740-452-3637.

Update: 12:21 p.m.

An Ohio sheriff says a mountain lion, grizzly bear and monkey are the only animals still running loose after escaping from an exotic-animal preserve.

Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz also says his department has received numerous complaints since 2004 about animals at the property in eastern Ohio.
The farm owner apparently opened cages that housed dozens of dangerous animals and then committed suicide.
Ohio University Zanesville and Zane State College are still open today for classes, despite the exotic animal situation.
OUZ Dean Richard Greenlee sent out a letter to the students and faculty stating that he is aware of the situation and has Security Staff patrolling the campus and the grounds to ensure the safety of everyone.
Greenlee continues to say that campus officials are unaware of any sightings of the animals in the City of Zanesville at this time, but if an animal is spotted on the campus, they will notify everyone through the campus emergency notification system.


Update: 10:15 am

Sheriff confirms that owner appears to have died from self-inflicted wounds. It appears that he opened the cages himself, no one else is suspected.

He believes that 33/34 out of 48 animals have been found. Darkness played a part in the decision to shoot the animals instead of tranquilizing them.

Some of the animals were very aggressive. One of the animals that were shot included a 300 pound tiger.

Sheriff believes that large cats are still on the loose, but not sure how many are still on the loose. A large cat was hit on the interstate.

Sheriff says around 35 complaints about the farm have been registered in the past several years.

Sheriff says decision to close schools was to protect students who may have to wait at bus stops.

He says they will continue to look for animals. Not sure how to determine if all the animals are found.

Jack Hanna from the Columbus Zoo says he has been working with the governor's office to pass a law to stop these types of operations. Says he has had threatening calls from animal rights groups because he has supported the Sheriff's decision to kill the animals to protect residents.

Hanna says, "This is like a nightmare."

According to sheriff: Some primates were secured in the house. "Still evaluating the scene." No suicide note found. Still waiting on results of the autopsy report. Sheriff doesn't believe any one else was involved. Animals were in different types of cages at the scene.

Sheriff has spoken to the owner's wife and is opening to speak to her about the existing animals later today.

Sheriff says no one has been hurt, says people people should take extreme caution and contact sheriff if they see any animals.

Another news conference scheduled for 3 p.m. Should have more details of what animals are still missing.

Update 9:35 am 

According to the Associated Press: A sheriff says new, overnight animal sightings have not been confirmed in rural eastern Ohio, where police have killed dozens of animals that escaped from a wild-animal preserve.

Muskingum County Sheriff Sheriff Matt Lutz told ABC's "Good Morning America" before dawn on Wednesday that he believed up to 35 of the 48 animals were accounted for. He says daylight will allow officer to get a more accurate count.

Deputies responding to the initial reports of loose bears, big cats and other beasts found the farm's owner dead on Tuesday. Authorities aren't saying how he died but say his death wasn't suspicious.

Police said the farm's fences had been left unsecured and the animals' cages were open.

Update 9:20 am

WSYX in Columbus is quoting Jack Hanna of the Columbus Zoo as saying "the person found dead took his own life and set the animals loose." 

Update 7:43 am

The Muskigum County Sheriff says it is "very possible" that the owner of an animal preserve in Muskingum County opened the cages himself before he died.

Sheriff Matt Lutz says dozens of exotic animals escaped from the preserve near Kopchak Road and I-70 last night.

The preserve had lions, tigers, cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels and bears.

Lutz appeared on NBC's Today Show this morning.

The body of owner Terry Thompson was found Tuesday outside his home on the farm property.

Authorities aren't saying how he died but say his death wasn't suspicious.

Police say the fences had been left unsecured.

Thompson was recently released from prison.

When asked if Thompson may have committed suicide after opening the fences, Lutz said "anything is a possibility."

Staffers from the Columbus Zoo are on the scene hoping to tranquilize and capture the animals.

Lutz says he believed up to 35 of the 48 animals were accounted for.

Update: 7:20am

Flashing highway signs are warning motorists to stay in their vehicles in rural eastern Ohio, where police have killed dozens of animals that escaped from a wild-animal preserve.

Deputies responding to the initial reports of loose bears, big cats and other beasts found the farm's owner dead on Tuesday.

Authorities aren't saying how he died but say his death wasn't suspicious.

Three school districts and some private and special schools canceled Wednesday's classes in the region around the farm in Zanesville. Police said the farm's fences had been left unsecured and the animals' cages were open.

Close to 30 of the 48 animals were shot and killed on Tuesday.

The Humane Society of the United States says the episode shows Ohio needs restrictions on the possession of wild animals.


Update: 5:15am

Police armed with rifles are patrolling rural Zanesville where dozens of animals escaped from a wild-animal preserve and where the owner's body later was found.

Some school districts were expected to cancel classes Wednesday as the remaining bears, big cats and other beasts from the Muskingum County Animal Farm were hunted down.

Police started getting phone calls at about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday that wild animals were loose just west of Zanesville.

Four sheriff's deputies with assault rifles in a pickup truck went to the animal farm, where they found the owner dead and all the animal cage doors open.

The preserve had lions, tigers, cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels and bears.

There were 48 animals at the preserve in east-central Ohio and authorities say they killed up to 30 of them.

Police say animals have escaped from an exotic farm and are on the loose in east-central Ohio.

Police say the animals escaped from the farm at about 6 p.m. Tuesday. It wasn't immediately clear what animals had escaped, but the farm housed lions and at least
one bear.

A Muskingum County Sheriff's Office dispatcher says some of the animals have been put down.

Messages seeking additional information have been left for the sheriff and the Department of Natural Resources.