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Youths Enter Bear Cage; 1 Is Killed, 2 Flee in Terror

May 20, 1987|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — A young boy was mauled to death by two polar bears after closing hours Tuesday at the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn and authorities at first feared that the animals had devoured two other youngsters.

But the two other youths were later located by police and were unharmed, according to wire service reports. The two bears were slain by repeated blasts from police shotguns.

The dead boy, identified as Juan Perez, 11, of Brooklyn, was partially devoured by the bears.

Police said that the three youths apparently entered the bear enclosure sometime after the zoo closed at 5 p.m. The area is guarded by a tall, barred fence but it would not be too difficult for children to get inside, zoo officials said.

New York City Park Commissioner Henry Stern said that when the first police officers arrived at the zoo after a report of screams coming from the zoo, they saw two youngsters running away with their clothing in disarray. But the officers did not immediately associate these youths with the reported screams.

The officers at first could not get inside the zoo and had to wait until a keeper arrived to unlock a gate. As they neared the polar bear enclosure with its caves and a swimming moat, the officers saw the remains of the child being mauled by the two huge bears.

Members of the Police Department's emergency service unit were hastily summoned, and it took 20 shots from their shotguns to kill the animals.

Medical Examiner Summoned

When sneakers, three pairs of pants and two unmatched shoes were found in the enclosure, the officers, fearing that other boys had been killed, summoned the city's chief medical examiner and a veterinarian to the scene to conduct autopsies on Teddy, the 33-year-old, 1,400-pound male bear, and Lucy, his 32-year-old female companion. Lucy weighed 900 pounds.

The two boys who accompanied Perez were taken to police by their parents when they returned home safely but without any clothes, Police spokesman Peter O'Donnell said. The boys, who were not immediately identified by authorities, told investigators that they went to the zoo to swim in the moat surrounding the bear cage.

O'Donnell said the three youths took off their clothes to swim, but when two of them decided that they were too scared to enter the cage, a third boy threw their clothes onto the rocks inside the bear's enclosure.

Perez and another boy went into the cage to retrieve the clothes, and as Perez crossed the moat to get his garments, his friend stayed near the fence outside the moat, O'Donnell said.

Squirmed Through Fence

"At about that point the bears awoke, " O'Donnell said. "The first one comes down and does nothing, just looks at the kids. Then the second one comes down and grabs Juan and drags him up the rocks into the cave."

As Perez was carried into the bears' lair, the second youth who accompanied him squirmed through the fence to safety, O'Donnell said.

As word of the tragedy spread, additional police and rescue personnel gathered at the zoo while the medical examiner and the veterinarian performed the autopsies under bright floodlights. Shortly before 11 p.m., Stern announced that the autopsy on the male bear had revealed no additional bodies. A few minutes later, he told a crowd of reporters the autopsy on the female bear was also negative.

Mayor Edward I. Koch, who rushed to the zoo--near the site of Ebbets Field, the Dodgers' old stadium in Brooklyn--was noticeably shaken after telling reporters that the first police officers on the scene had seen the bears devouring the child. "Obviously, it was a horrendous, gruesome sight," the mayor said.

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