Report forwarded to the Animal Attack Files by a Special Correspondant:

Parents Want Answers in Gorilla Attack

Report of  December 18, 1998

By Todd Bensman / The Dallas Morning News

The Dallas Zoo keeper mauled by a wayward gorilla last month was released from Methodist Medical Center this week, her wounds more severe than first reported and her parents upset that other zoo personnel didn't do more to rescue her.

Jennifer McClurg, 25, remained bedridden and under sedation at her Oak Lawn apartment Thursday, recovering from 33 puncture wounds, her parents said.

The bites paralyzed her right arm, rendered her right leg useless and caused a tear that nearly detached an eyelid, said her father, Bill McClurg, though he said doctors have hope that she will regain use of her injured limbs.

Ms. McClurg was released from the hospital Wednesday, nearly three weeks after the Nov. 28 attack by Hercules, a 340-pound male silverback gorilla. The animal apparently got into a zoo building adjacent to his confines through a door that zoo officials say had been left open.

Ms. McClurg has declined to answer all interview requests. But her mother, Mikki McClurg, said her daughter told her that despite gaping wounds and a volunteer's frantic radioed calls for help, she had to escape on her own after an attack of "far more" than half an hour.

Other workers tranquilized Hercules with a dart after a bleeding Ms. McClurg made her getaway, zoo officials have said.

"There are a lot of questions that we have about getting her out of that room," the victim's mother said. "You like to feel protected."

Mrs. McClurg said she thinks zoo officials "know exactly what went on."

Zoo and city parks officials said an internal inquiry, which is continuing, has turned up little new information about what happened before and during the attack.

Ms. McClurg, whose account is considered crucial, still has not been interviewed because she has been sedated to ease pain, officials and her parents said.

"We really don't know what the hell happened - I really don't," said zoo director Rich Buickerood. "Any time you have a situation like this, you're going to have people sit around and play Monday morning quarterback."

As for the suggestion that Ms. McClurg's colleagues didn't react quickly enough, Mr. Buickerood said, "In an emotional situation like that . . . people don't have any sense of time."

On Tuesday, Ms. McClurg's supervisor, Fred LaRue, resigned his position overseeing the zookeepers for what city officials said were personal reasons unrelated to the attack. Mr. LaRue, who was working the day of the attack, did not return phone calls this week and would not meet with a reporter at his zoo office.

Mr. Buickerood said supervisors did not ask Mr. LaRue to resign.

"This is a kind of business where people stagnate if they've been here too long," he said. "I suspect he may have just felt stagnated. It's a personal decision that he made. He offered several times to resign, saying he wanted to do some other things."

Several members of the city Park and Recreation Board, which oversees the zoo, said zoo officials presented them a report about the incident at a regular meeting Dec. 10. The report contained information about Ms. McClurg's condition but offered nothing about the incident beyond what has already been made public, said the board's vice chairman, Dwaine Caraway.

"We still don't really know what happened," board member Geraldine Dunbar said Wednesday. "We can only go by what they're telling us."

Paul Dyer, director of city's Park and Recreation Department, said the attack has highlighted a need to develop a crisis-reaction plan for the zoo. He said he has called on Dallas police and fire officials to evaluate the zoo and recommend new procedures.

"The staff has talked about the incident, introspectively," Mr. Dyer said. "We just wanted to make sure that anything that can be done will be done" in case of future animal attacks.

Ms. McClurg, meanwhile, wants to speak to zoo officials about the incident soon, her parents said. City officials said they are eager to hear her account for their inquiry.

The McClurgs, who are visiting from California, said their daughter wants to return to working with animals but may have to wait until she can use her hand and arm again. She is living on worker's compensation insurance.

But they were unclear about whether their daughter would return to the Dallas Zoo.

"She has no grievances about the animals," Mrs. McClurg said.

Asked whether her daughter had grievances about any colleagues, Mrs. McClurg repeated, "She has no grievances about the animals."

Mr. Buickerood said he was "thrilled" to learn about Ms. McClurg's release from the hospital and would gladly accept her back at the zoo.

"We care a lot about this young lady," he said.

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