tv The Animal Massacre MSNBC December 31, 2013 1:00am-2:01am PST
>> 911. >> is this a hoax or is this really -- >> no, it's true. and if you see anything, stay indoors. >> remain indoors. don't try to approach them. >> on the 18th of october, 2011, one american town became engulfed in a bizarre and tragic event. >> i'm in desperate need here of some help. these things are completely crazy. half domesticated, half wild. >> stay inside. >> this is the story of what happened that night in zanesville, ohio, when one man's obsession with exotic and dangerous animals left his community with dozens and dozens of deadly carnivores on the loose.
>> we are not talking about your normal, every day house cat. these are 300-pound bengal tigers. >> lions and tigers and bears roaming the area. >> it's complete chaos out there. we have officers going in heavily arms. >> the local sheriff department found itself at the center of a news story that sparked international outrage. >> stop shooting animals! you guys are outrageous! >> right now we're shooting to kill. >> tigers and bears and wolves and cheetahs and leopards. you name it, it's loose.
>> i can still remember the day i got a call to go to a property. the call was a camel was eating a lady's tree. and when i got the call, i was somewhat skeptical it was really going to be a camel eating a tree. and when i got to location this older gentleman stopped in a pickup truck. he yelled at me. he said, deputy, are you looking for the owner of that camel? and i said yes. and he said terry thompson. and if you go there, be careful because he has lions and bears.
>> terry thompson lived on his farm in rural ohio, along with 56 exotic pets. >> well, the lions would be roars when they want to eat. you hear them every day. >> in the summertime outside you can area them really roar. i said, i hope they're not that hungry. >> in his hometown, terry was known as a man who walked on the wild side. >> terry used to own a harley davidson dealership in the area. he was also licensed to deal in class three weapons. class three weapons are automatic weapons. so it was the only harley davidson dealer you can get a harley davidson and a machine gun at the the same time. >> terry was known as an absolute thrill seeking daredevil.
>> i remember him flying his airplane inappropriately, too low, too fast. >> of course, he flew the plane under the veterans bridge in zanesville. there's not much clearance between the river and the bridge. >> zanesville, ohio, is not the sort of place you normally associate with rare events. >> small population. hometown people. everyone knows everyone for the most part. >> but on october 18th, 2011, zanesville, ohio, briefly became one of the most dangerous places in america. it all started around 5:00 p.m. when terry's nextdoor neighbor noticed his horse, red, acting
strangely. >> red was eating grass, just like he is now. and all the sudden, he took off. red took off up over the hill. he wasn't running from me. i didn't know what he was running to or from, and so i went through the gate. and i looked, and he went all the way up to the corner where the fence comes together. when i got to about right in here, i could see more of the horses, and they were going around and around in a circle. and horses don't do that unless something is going on. something is not right. i could see something was in the circle of the horses. i saw a black figure. >> what was the black figure? >> the black figure was a bear. said, i'm going to get him and take him to the barn, we got about right here, and i felt something is not right.
i feel like something is looking at me, we got about right here in this area, and i know because this small tree is right here. it's a locust tree. the lion was sitting right there. right at this fence. a male african lion. huge animal. he could have hopped over the fence and been on us in the snap of a finger. my first thought is dial 911. i said, well, i want my mom to know what's going on. my mother was in our living room of our house, sitting watching tv when i called her. >> he said, we got big problems. he said, i know there's a bear loose. it's up there with the horses, and there's a full grown lion. and so he told me to call somebody. >> 911.
>> yes, we live next to terry thompson, and there's a bear and a lion out. >> there's a bear and a lion out? >> yeah, right behind us. >> it's behind your house? >> pardon me? >> is it behind your house? is it behind your house? >> yes, and they're chasing terry's horses. >> it was pretty common to get called out to terry thompson's. >> deputies had been called out to deal with terry's animals over 20 times in the previous seven years. terry's collection of animals began with horses, which he trained with his wife, marion. >> terry and marion were very happy together. she was always willing to do whatever he was into at the moment. and she would be into it, too. they chose not to have children. they said, we decided not to have kids. we're just going to have animals. he said, i don't want to bring
any kids into this world. >> over the years, terry and marion's choice of pets became more adventurous and more dangerous. in state of ohio, most creatures, great and small, could be bought legally. >> i met marion and terry at an exotic animal auction. i believe terry bought a lion, a baby lion. that's when i first met them. they asked me a lot of questions on thousand to raise them and what to do. >> i said what in the hell do you want that thing for, man? i said, it's going to eat your horses. that's the first thing i told him. >> ohio was one of seven states in america with few, if any restrictions on the ownership of
exotic pets. terry thompson was allowed to collect as many dangerous animals as he wanted. >> he had one lion. the next thing you know there was five. then there was ten. don't know where he found them all. i have no idea. >> as you can see in this bizarre online photograph, terry would sometimes ride with his creatures uncaged. >> i know his personality drew him to these things. who else had large cats and bears? who else raised them in their house? nobody that i know of. but "t" had more guts. now i got one more, one more. got more than you, more than you. >> i was always concerned that we had a public safety issue terry and marion had so many animals that were dangerous. lions, tigers, bears.
i pulled up over to the right there, there was a lion lying down in the grass. here to the left, there was a black bear, and i remember i thought that bear could get out of that any time it wanted to. >> there's a lock on the gate, so i'm guessing nobody is home. if you haven't already done so, see if we have any phone numbers for terry thompson. see if we can get ahold of him. >> the first thing i thought of was, okay, this is bad, but it's manageable.
>> hello. please leave a message after the tone. >> hi, terry. this is the sheriff's office. we are trying to get ahold of you. there's a bear and lion running loose down by your house. give us a call. >> we'll find terry, get the animals back in, i'll finish my coffee and go on with my shift. but wasn't to be. >> the muskingum county sheriffs department endured a long and often fractious relationship with terry thompson. >> i was assigned to investigate terry's animals at least four separate occasions. >> in 2010, detective welker lead a team of officers and animal welfare experts to inspect the thompson cages. >> terry was not always happy to
>> terry was not always happy to see us. >> are we allowed to take your picture with my camera? >> yeah. >> terry was a vietnam veteran. >> now don't worry about the shutter on the computer, i don't have one. >> he served his time in vietnam, and he couldn't believe the police would be telling him how fast to drive his boat or how low to fly his airplane, or how many wild animals he would have. it was actually very bizarre to be up close to more wild animals
than you can go to the columbus zoo and see. >> despite the troubling findings of the inspection, the sheriff's department was powerless to enforce changes or bring charges. 15 minutes after the first emergency call, the sheriffs department was in the dark about how many animals were loose, or how they got out. for deputies arrives on the scene, perhaps the answer lay inside the property. >> somebody had to get up there and try to find out what was going on. i lifted the gate, drove up the road, it was that way and it goes to the right. when i got close to the house, there were just animals just all around. they were tigers, they were
>> for me, i knew we had a serious issue because if these animals were out, they were out of control because all terry had to control them were the pens. >> all his animals to my knowledge are inside this large fence. however, the large fence that i'm calling large is four-foot exterior fence, which for a tiger is nothing. >> i told my partner, i said, we have to call the wilds. >> high, this is dr. wolfe from the wilds. >> with a potential 56 animals now free, officers turn to vets for the local zoo for advice and counseling. >> i'm sure you're familiar with terry thompson's animals? >> yes. i need someone with a tranquilizer gun. >> you know, this is always a possibility, but who would think that this would happen? >> all of terry thompson's animals are loose right now. >> we all just started to move.
>> as i was driving to zanesville, i was thinking about the fact that we train for emergency situations in zoos all the time. but when we train for the situations, we're usually thinking about one animal. in a really extreme situation, maybe two, three or four. but i never considered what it would be like to try to contain 30, 40, 50 animals. this is the thompson property. we can see that it's approximately 300 yards from the interstate. it's very close proximity to town. here is the farm, and here is the closest school, which is two miles. >> the vets journey to zanesville would take an hour. facing an immediate public safety emergency, the sheriff made a decision.
>> on the way to the scene i made it clear to this the guys on the scene that if there were any animals outside the pasture field or looking like they were going out of the fence, they would be put down. >> it looks like they're coming over. >> i searched the house. i didn't find terry. i thought, well, nothing else we can do up here. i started down the drive, and a little ways from the house were some of the animal cages. and there was what i assumed to be a dead body down there around the cages. he was lying on his back, and to his left there was some kind of
an object, which i couldn't tell for sure, but it looked like a pistol. i had to assume that it was terry thompson. >> i can remember feeling holy hell. up to that point, we could always rely on terry to help us get the animals contained, but at that point is when i thought, this is really, really bad, because we're on our own now. are you ready grandma? just a second, sweetie. [ female announcer ] we eased your back pain... ♪ ready or not. [ female announcer ] ...so you can be up there. here i come! [ female announcer ] ...down there, around there... and under there for him. tylenol® provides strong pain relief while being gentle on your stomach. but for everything we do, we know you do so much more.
you can learn more about the vets were still many miles away from the thompson farm, where dozens of animals were still on the loose. meanwhile, terry thompson's body lay in the open. the sheriff called for backup, closer to home. >> as soon as i got the call that night, i came home immediately and got dressed and
headed out to my car so i could respond to the scene. i know where my weapons system is. as soon as i open my trunk, this is what you see. this is a remington 700. this is our weapon of choice as a sniper for the county response team. >> this weapon has a single burst. it also has a three-round burst. and also -- all three were used the night of the incident. >> this is an ar-15. this weapon was not designed specifically for tigers, but on that night it was designated for them.
>> it's still complete chaos out there. we have officers rolling in heavily armed. >> we have a crew of four going in to check on the owner of the property. >> if the special response team could reach thompson's body, then maybe they could determine what had happened to him, and how this dangerous hoard of pets got loose. at the time of the emergency, terry and marion owned 17 lions. 18 tigers. 8 bears, 3 mountain lions, 2 wolves and 3 leopards. in all, 51 major carnivores. >> the last three years it became too overwhelming for them financially and physically for them. the cages weren't being cleaned.
the cages weren't being repaired. gates were being broke, and the latches weren't being fixed. >> he's a hoarder of animals. not just animals. before the animals there was vehicles. he was a hoarder of vehicles. that's one thing of that contributed to him being known as quite an eccentric fellow. the hoarding of things. it got more trouble some when it was the hoarding of wild and dangerous animals. >> there's a crew of four headed inside the property. >> you could hear the roars and growls.
if anybody up there says that they weren't scared, they're acting macho. at that time the sheriff had said if we were able to contain the animals, that's what we wanted to do. if anything approaches the fence, shoot to kill. i could see lions, bears and tigers and they were all coming towards the fence. >> the special response team shot and killed animals near the perimeter while slowly working their way into the property to recover thompson's body. >> we could see terry thompson laying there. he was laying flat on his back and his jeans pulled all the way down to his ankles, but we couldn't get to him.
there was a tiger hovered over terry, and he was -- he had his mouth around terry, around his head. there was several bite marks. through our scopes i could see a pair of blue bolt cutters. i had no idea at that point what those were used for. >> unable to approach the body until they had full control of the animals, the deputies turned their attention to the open cages. >> we could see at least two or three lionesses inside. >> we did not want to harm those animals that for some reason were still inside the cages. so as we're looking through our scopes and scanning for these lions, drake would come up on my side, reach into the door and attempt to shut the door and
latch lock it. so we did this through several doors successfully. at this point we're thinking, okay. any animals in there we have safely secured them. they can't get out. we saved some animals lives. >> at that time we encountered something i guarantee i'll never forget as long as i live. >> i look over and three feet away from where the door is, there's a large hole cut in the chain link fence. as soon as i saw that, i remember the blue bolt lock cutters laying beside terry thompson. >> i got immediately angry. i was very upset at that point because i knew there was some type of either premeditated means for the animals to get out, or a setup to have someone injured from this. >> all the sudden this lioness starts going right out us. she's not running, but she's pouncing.
i can see her paws hit the ground and she's pouncing, and her shoulder blades pop up out of her back, and she gets all the way to the chain link, and as soon as she gets there we just start unloading rounds. >> i can remember shell cases hitting off hi made. >> i'm putting as many rounds as i can until the lion is completely motionless. we realize that we can't secure these cages. all the animals that we took the time to secure the doors, they're not secure. >> they called again to say that the cages had been cut open. the chain link was destroyed, and there was no way to cage the animals if they were able to coax them back into the cages. at that point, it was very clear there was no recourse, but i had to give the advice to shoot to kill the animals because the situation was too dangerous for both the sheriffs department and the public surrounding in
>> one of the formations that we used on the thompson farm was called diamond formation. if a threat came up to the left, for instance, we can say tiger left, tiger left. the whole team can move its position. >> tiger, tiger, tiger. tiger down. >> tiger left, tiger left. >> when the shooting started, it sounded like multiple fireworks display. boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, constantly. >> it was mind boggling. just constant gunfire. it sounded like i was talking to somebody in afghanistan.
>> the tigers were by far the most resilient. a couple of them would do somersaults when they would hit. a lot of the lions would just drop to the ground. maybe a little bit of movement. the tigers would do somersaults. one, two somersaults and they would cover 30 to 40 feet. >> outside the farm, other officers guarded the perimeter with orders to shoot to kill any animals that got past the fence line. >> all the animals i shot were outside of the thompson property. they were on their way to who knows where and to who knows what. what family could have possibly encountered these? >> more than half of the animals were killed. >> that night as the zanesville story went national, public support for the sheriff department quickly went south.
>> right now we're shooting to kill. >> you have reached the sheriff's office? >> hate calls. that's what we started calling them, was hate calls. >> can i help you zm. >> stop shooting animals! you guys are outrageous! >> you are looking like [ bleep ] on national tv. >> we couldn't do anything but tans the phone, hang it up, and it would be lit again with people from around the world wanting to wish ill will. >> do you require an i.q. test for the officers. >> sir, i'm not going to debate this issue with you. >> well, i'm going to make a bill for that. >> it was just accusations that we were having fun killing these animals, and we current having fun.
it was a professional police operation. >> it was in the back of my mind all the time. how were people going to portray me? i don't want to be portrayed as some kind of monster. you know, animal killer. >> at one point, i was called up to deal with a big bear. i can remember aiming at that bear's head. whew. and, um -- then pulling the
trigger and just dropping it. you know, then we moved onto the next one. >> by 8:00 p.m. the police had already killed dozens of thompson's animals. with many large cats and bears still on the loose, detectives approached thompson's body to do their forensics. >> the sheriff told me to take charge of the investigation of the body. here's terry lying away from the path. we could see a drag mark in the grass where a cat or cats had
drug terry away from the bloodstain. there was a head wound, a head gunshot wound. his hands were filled with gun powder residue. those factors combined leads us to believe that this is a suicide. >> in the three years prior to the incident, terry's life had spiralled out of control. the u.s. bureau of alcohol, tobacco and firearms conducted an investigation into terry's gun collection, finding five machine guns and two shotguns that terry had no license for. they quickly brought charges.
>> he told me, he said, i've got nothing left to fight with. said, i'm done. that's what he told me. it was before he left. >> terry thompson was convicted and served ten months in a federal prison for possession of unregistered firearms. >> terry was afraid of being locked up, confined, because he was such a free spirit that did exactly everything he wanted to do. >> while terry was in prison, the heavy burden of caring for the farm and the animals fell on marion. >> the farm was pretty bad shape. marion couldn't do anymore. it was little less of her every time you saw her. she couldn't have weighed 85 pounds at one point. she was working herself to death. >> i think terry's downfall is
that when he returned from prison, marion was not at the farm waiting for him. >> something had to break. that's why marion left. not because she truly didn't love him anymore. she just couldn't take it anymore. >> after 34 years of marriage, terry's wife was no longer by his side. >> i don't think terry was one to cry on anybody's shoulder and break down at all. tough guy. you don't show that weakness. >> a few days later i saw him. we were laughing and joking, having a conversation. just kidding around. i thought, he's coming back. i think he just went out of -- what he was going to do.
>> after he cut the cages, terry went to where the cats were. his pants and underwear were pulled down, and his shirt was pulled up. >> he had been eaten? >> he had been eaten. >> when you say eaten, what do you mean? >> well, i think i can answer that best by saying in the wild, animals frequently eat the softest tissue first on something that they've killed. and of course, the softer tissue would be the private parts of both males and females. i do know that his pants were unbuttoned and unzipped. that leaves me to belief he quite possibly, more than likely partially disrobed himself,
probably knowing the cats were eating. >> he said, i want to be recycled. that's what he said. i didn't doubt it. but i sure didn't want him to do it. >> six and a half hours after the first sighting, the guns fell silent on the thompson farm. >> we were still unsure how many animals were out there. we didn't see anything moving around, so we made that our stopping point. >> to determine how many creatures were still loose, officers started counting bodies. >> we will put them all in one spot. we'll know exactly what we're up against in the morning. we used a rope like a noose, and we would tie it around one of their legs and just slide them up the hill.
all in one area. all in the proper species. some people passed judgment and said it was like a trophy case. it was no trophy. it just made sense. >> the gruesome body count continued into the next morning. >> based on what they recovered, they had an idea they might still be out there. >> we got to the point where we had one tiger left. i said, i'm going to go up and see if we can get somebody with a tranquilizer. if we can save one of these animals, we're going to.
>> one of the officers came up and said they had heard a tiger in the woods down from the house. my first reaction to that, when he said tiger, i thought, this is worth it. maybe we can get this tiger. we calculated an estimated dose based on what we thought this tiger weighed, and i took one gun and two darts with me, and four of the officers. as i approached it, it didn't really occur to me that i was getting closer and closer until i saw very clearly that he was about 15 feet in front of me. >> i'm probably 25 yards from it. and i'm not comfortable where i'm at. >> i had to still push a little bit further into the dense brush until i could see an opening. >> she's definitely got bigger cahones than i do.
>> then i was worried the sound of the gun would startle him. so i was quiet taking off my safety and everything else. and once i saw him -- >> i can see the side on this tiger just twitch. so i'm thinking, yeah, she hit it. >> i thought for a minute, we're going to be okay, this is going to work. >> within a second of being completely docile, this tiger just started thrashing. the most horrific noises i've ever heard in my life. >> the most god awful you know, growl, roar, comes out this thing, and it just leaps. >> you could just see the whole area moving, all the brush, and you knew this tiger was about to come out. >> i could see that he was moving. i backed out as quickly as i could and went the other direction. >> the tiger went straight at her. >> and then the gunshots just rang.
>> there are 48 animals that we had to put down. those animals included one wolf, six black bears, two grizzly bears, nine male lions, one baboon, three mountain lions and 18 tigers. >> 16 tragic hours after the first 911 call what became known as the zanesville animal massacre was finally over. fortunately, no members of the public had been harmed by any of the animals. the harm to the animals, however, was devastating. that night, police killed the equivalent of 1% of india's wild tiger population. >> there's been stories out that, you know, the zanesville animal massacre.
and i guess when i first seen that headline it kind of pissed me off, you know, that they would -- that they would headline it like that. but the more i thought about it, that's pretty much what it was. >> just six of terry's animals were recovered unharmed. still secure in their cages. three leopards, two monkeys, and a brown bear. over the next few days, the zanesville animal massacre dominated the headlines in america with one question on every reporter's mind.
>> is there any understanding as to why he let all of these dangerous animals out before he took his own life? >> you know, maybe in terry's mind he thought this was the last way to get back at the government. another way to look at this might be that terry looked at the animals as kids, a product that he and marian's relationship and perhaps when he didn't have marian anymore, he thought, i'll kill the kids to get back at marian. but there had to be a reason in terry's mind to do what he did. we just don't know which reason it was. >> stay. >> i think i've got past it, but, you know, some of these memories out there were nothing
good morning on this last day of 2013. right now on "first look," ready for rescue. icebreakers unable to reach the stranded antarctic ship and a helicopter will be used to rescue the passengers. fireball. a derailed train erupts in flames and in plumes of thick, toxic, black smoke into the air and forcing residents to hunker down. going pro. reports that johnny football will skip another year of college to cash in on the nfl. plus, 2013 was a great year for investors, ford cars and trucks, and president obama's favorite tv shows. happy new year. it's nice to see you. i'm veronica de la cruz. 74 passengers and crew members on board that stranded rus