Cheetah exhibit rescuers: ‘Child’s face was caked with mud’

CLEVELAND (MEDIA GENERAL/WOOD) – Mark McConnell and his family from Michigan happened to be visiting the Cleveland Zoo at the exact time a 2-year-old fell into the cheetah exhibit.

McConnell recounts that his family was walking around the park when they heard “Help!” His son Luke turned to see a father, mother and young child inside the cheetah exhibit and Luke and his father, Mark, went running to help.

Mark McConnell said by the time they knew what was going on all three family members were inside the enclosure trying to get out. He said zoo visitors on the other side of the exhibit were making noise to distract the cheetahs. He said the mother and young child got out quickly. But, it took five men to pull the dad over the 10-12 foot walls.

McConnell said he could see the animals were watching the activity. “You could tell they were affected by what was going on, but they didn’t make a move toward the dad,” he said.

Cleveland Metroparks plans to seek child endangering charges against the mother who is accused of dangling her 2-year-old son over the railing at the zoo before he fell in.

McConnell said he didn’t see what happened. But, he thought the child fell face first into the mud because his head was caked with it. He also said the father seemed unaware of how everything happened. He said after getting out, the father talked about parking the stroller and then realizing something terrible had happened.

As for McConnell, he’s relieved. “Could’ve been a whole lot worse,” he said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story)

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