Cleveland authorities have filed a child endangerment charge against a mother whose 2-year-old fell into a cheetah pit after she allegedly dangled him over the zoo exhibit.
Michelle Schwab, 38, faces a misdemeanor charge that carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. The charge was filed in Cleveland Municipal Court on Monday; Schwab will be arraigned April 22.
Schwab was seen dangling the toddler Saturday when he slipped and fell into the exhibit at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. He suffered injuries in the fall, with court documents showing he broke his left leg.
“While this incident is disturbing to everyone, we are glad injuries were not any more severe,” Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Director Christopher Kuhar said in a statement. “We have a number of eyewitness accounts that indicate the child was held over the railing and then dropped.”
Cleveland.com reported Monday that Schwab is an assistant director for a KinderCare child-care center in Columbus.
“[Schwab] is currently home with her family and will remain out of our center while this issue is investigated and addressed,” KinderCare spokeswoman Colleen Moran said in an e-mail, Cleveland.com reported. “In addition to the agencies looking into this issue, we are looking into the incident further ourselves, as we closely examine issues involving the treatment of children by our employees, even if those incidents arise outside of our centers.”
At the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, a 10- to 12-foot-high fence contains two male cheetahs. Officials said the mother was standing at a spot that looks over the exhibit, holding her son over the edge, when he fell 10 feet into the pit, Cleveland Fire Department spokesman Larry Gray told the Plain Dealer.
“We were coming around the gorillas and we heard a kid screaming,” visitor Michael Lurie told WKYC-TV. “You saw how far the drop was and you just couldn’t believe the kid didn’t hurt himself from falling down on the ground. I’m looking at the cheetahs and then all I hear is the screams. Everything happened so quick.”
The toddler’s parents jumped into the exhibit and pulled him out. He was taken to a hospital where he was treated for an apparent leg injury, according to the statement.
Zoo officials said the cheetahs did not make a move toward the parents or the boy.
“I think they were just curious as to what was going on and why somebody was in the pen with them because it’s not every day that somebody is just in the pen with them,” visitor Terra Lurie told WKYC-TV. “And everyone else is screaming and they probably got scared.”
“I was just shocked,” Michael Lurie added. “I didn’t understand how the parents let the kid go over the thing.”
In 2012, a 2-year-old boy in Pittsburgh jumped from his mother’s arms into a wild African dogs exhibit, where he was killed, the Associated Press reported. His parents sued the zoo, claiming it knew the railing posed a danger to children. The zoo counter-sued, arguing it was the mother’s fault for holding her child on top of the railing. The case has since been settled.
[This post has been updated.]