COLUMBUS (AP) — A recently released federal prison inmate who freed dozens of exotic pets including lions and tigers from his eastern Ohio farm and then killed himself had been distraught over a plan to place him on house arrest, a probation officer told deputies in records released this week.
The records also show that deputies responding to Terry Thompson’s property the day he died believed they had confined several lions to their cages by closing doors that had been pushed open, only to find the animals were escaping through holes made by bolt cutters.
Officers resorted to shooting all the lions, among 48 of Thompson’s 56 animals that were killed over two days in October out of concern for public safety as they spread across the farm and the community outside Zanesville.
The documents, first reported Tuesday by the Zanesville Times Recorder, are described by the Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office as the final, full report into the incident, and they include previously released narratives from deputies and additional investigative reports.
One detective reported he interviewed federal probation officer Joe Moore, who had visited the farm five days before Thompson’s suicide and had recently spoken by telephone with the 62-year-old Thompson, who had been home only a few weeks after spending a year in prison on a gun conviction and was to be hooked up to an electronic monitoring device.
“Moore described Thompson as being ‘distraught’ over being confined to his residence,” the report says, adding that he also was struggling with other issues.
The detective wrote: “Thompson was ‘overwhelmed’ with the (farm’s) condition since he had returned home from prison. … Thompson had confirmed he and (wife) Marian were ‘having problems.’”
In another report, a deputy says he and other officers had attempted to save some of the animals by closing heavy wooden doors with latch locks that confined large lions.
“At that point we thought we had neutralized any threat from those animals, but as we moved to the last door and locked it we saw that all the cages had been cut open using bolt cutters,” the deputy says. “The chain link fence had been cut to where animals could go through. At that point there was no way to secure any of the cages.”
The deputy writes that another officer had tried to close one of the holes when a lion came out from about 3 feet away and was shot dead.
Three leopards and a grizzly bear that remained in secure cages were taken to the Columbus Zoo, the reports show. Officials have previously said two primates also were taken to the zoo, where all six animals are being cared for under a state-issued quarantine order being appealed by Marian Thompson, who wants the animals returned.
The animals that were killed were buried in a grave at a site she selected.
Reports show Terry Thompson was found near a pair of bolt cutters and a revolver from which one round had been fired. A white tiger appeared to be eating his body, which had been dragged about 20 feet, the reports say.
The release and killings of the animals focused attention on Ohio’s exotic-pet restrictions, which are among the weakest in the nation, and a study committee and state agencies have outlined a framework for possible new rules.
A group of animal owners is objecting to a recommended ban on ownership of venomous snakes, monkeys and other dangerous animals by 2014, arguing that federally licensed facilities shouldn’t fall under the prohibition.