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Police have said the parents of the four-year-old boy who climbed into the Cincinnati zoo’s gorilla enclosure could face criminal charges after staff were forced to kill the beloved animal.

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Harambe, a 400 pound silverback gorilla, was shot dead just one day after the zoo celebrated his 17th birthday when a child climbed through barriers and fell into the enclosure.

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Prosecutors have not yet made an official announcement but police have told reporters that charges could be filed as early as this week.

Captured on cell phone video, the incident has sparked outrage over the “senseless” death of a beloved primate, with many placing the blame squarely on the child’s parents.

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Michelle Gregg, the mother of the boy, posted a message on Facebook saying: “I want to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers today. What started off as a wonderful day turned into a scary one. For those of you that have seen the news or been on social media that was my son that fell in the gorilla exhibit at the zoo. God protected my child until the authorities were able to get to him.

“My son is safe and was able to walk away with a concussion and a few scrapes… no broken bones or internal injuries. As a society we are quick to judge how a parent could take their eyes off of their child and if anyone knows me I keep a tight watch on my kids. Accidents happen but I am thankful that the right people were in the right place today.”

Public outcry has lead a vigil for Harambe to also become a rallying point for those hoping prosecutors will file charges against the boy’s parents.

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The family released a statement on Sunday saying they had taken their boy home.

It read: ‘We are so thankful to the Lord that our child is safe. He is home and doing just fine. We extend our heartfelt thanks for the quick action by the Cincinnati Zoo staff.

‘We know that this was a very difficult decision for them, and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla. We hope that you will respect our privacy at this time.’

Director Thane Maynard supported the zoo’s dangerous animal response team for their decision to put down the gorilla.

“They made a tough choice and they made the right choice because they saved that little boy’s life,” Maynard said.

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According to Maynard, the gorilla did not appear to be attacking the child, but he described it as ‘an extremely strong animal in an agitated situation’.

“You’re talking about an animal that’s over 400 pounds and extremely strong. So no, the child wasn’t under attack but all sorts of things could happen in a situation like that. He certainly was at risk,” he told WLWT.

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