Courtesy: Columbus Zoo
Terry Thompson (2008 File Phone) Courtesy: Zanesville Times-Recorder
Zanesville, OH -- The final investigation report on the release of 56 exotic animals at an Ohio farm in October reveals that the farm owner was distraught about an impending confinement as part of his parole, overwhelmed with the condition of the farm and animals and upset about his wife being gone.
Two witnesses provided statements to the Muskingum County Sheriff's Office that provide insight into farm owner Terry Thompson's state of mind in the days leading up to the Oct. 18 incident.
Sheriff Matt Lutz said the investigation is complete , yet no one knows why he released the animals before committing suicide.
Thompson's actions set off a firestorm of activity in Muskingum County, as deputies tracked down and killed 48 of the animals.
PHOTOS: Surviving animals in quarantine at Columbus Zoo'
He had a plan'
John Moore, a caretaker on Thompson's property, told investigators he saw Thompson the night before the animals were released when he went to help feed the animals.
He told deputies that as he prepared to leave that evening, Thompson said he had received a letter from his wife, Marian, that disturbed him and that he "had a plan" and Moore would know it "when it happens."
Moore told deputies Marian Thompson had left the farm in April or May on business. He said she would come to the farm two or three times each week to check on things and sent money so food and materials for the farm.
Moore said he bought at least 2,000 pounds of chicken weekly to feed the big cats.
Marian Thompson has been out of town on business, said her attorney, Dean Wilson. She has not made any statements about her husband's death or the confiscation of six surviving animals.
The final report doesn't include any statements or interviews with Marian Thompson. Lutz said she wasn't at the scene Oct. 18, so there was no reason to interview her.
Five days before he released the animals, Terry Thompson received a visit from Joe Moore, a federal parole officer. Moore was at the farm on Kopchak Road to make arrangements for a home confinement system to be installed for one year.
Thompson, who was sentenced to one year and one day for two counts of possessing illegal firearms, had been released from federal prison Sept. 30.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives seized 133 weapons and a small amount of ammunition during a search of Thompson's home in 2008. They included five fully automatic firearms and three short-barreled firearms without serial numbers.
Moore said in a report that Thompson was distraught about being confined to the property and being hooked up to a monitoring system. He said the farm situation also was discussed, with Thompson saying he was overwhelmed with the condition of the farm and animals. Thompson also was disturbed that his wife was not at the home, Moore reported. Thompson told him he "took the gun case" that sent him to prison for "both him and Marian."
No one is sure, according to the report, where Thompson obtained the gun he used to kill himself.
The gun, a .357-caliber Ruger revolver, at one time belonged to a Muskingum County deputy who once was a gun dealer but who had not had possession of the gun for years and could not remember selling it to Thompson.
On the night of the animal release, deputies arrived at the Thompson farm after receiving calls that a lion and a bear had been spotted roaming loose.
Deputies found several big cats roaming near Thompson's body, which made it difficult for them to reach him, reports show.
Deputy K.C. Jones wrote in his report that when he arrived, he could hear sporadic gunfire coming from the area of the barn and house as deputies were trying to contain animals, but instead they had to kill the animals to reach Thompson's body.
Thompson's body was located in a field behind a row of cages. It appeared he had been dragged about 20 feet toward the cages, Jones stated.
Deputies found the gun, a pair of bolt cutters and a bloody ballcap that Thompson had been wearing at the spot where authorities think Thompson killed himself.
Deputies went to the back of the barn for safety because a white tiger was lying near Thompson, Jones stated. The Special Response Team was making a move into an area behind the barn where Jones knew, from previous visits, a large enclosure with cats was located.
"They suddenly cut loose with gunfire," Jones stated. A large male lion then came running from the north end of the barn and crossed in front of Jones, who fired a shot. The lion ran about 150 yards into a field toward a pond and laid down.
Jones said the lion, was killed by one of the SRT team members.
Once deputies felt they could move Thompson's body, a squad arrived and Thompson was taken to the Licking County Coroner's Office, where an autopsy was done.
Detective Todd Kanavel said the cages had been cut and cage doors were open, which prevented deputies from being able to contain the animals . All the while, Kanavel said, lions and tigers were escaping and some were charging at the deputies
One black leopard was found inside its cage, Kanavel said, and that cage was undamaged. Six of the animals, including the leopard, survived. They are at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium under quarantine
Autopsy and ballistic reports convinced Lutz that Thompson killed himself. Autopsy reports also show Thompson had bite marks on his head and several other wounds on his body that indicate he might have been bitten by a large cat.
SOURCE: Zanesville Times Recorder