The man was playing with his 18-month-old granddaughter on a family cruise when the unthinkable happened.
Chloe Wiegand from Granger, Ind., fell from an open window and tumbled 11 stories onto a dock in Puerto Rico, where the ship had returned between trips through warm Caribbean waters. She died Sunday at the scene, Puerto Rico Police Commissioner Henry Escalera Rivera told The Washington Post, as the horror of losing a child gripped the vacationing family.
Authorities said the grandfather, Salvatore Anello, was holding the girl when the child slipped from his grasp. A lawyer for the child’s family disputed that account and blamed the company that owns the cruise ship, saying Anello placed her on a railing by the window but did not realize it was open.
Witnesses told Telemundo PR that they heard the family’s tormented shrieks and that the mother’s cry was especially haunting. It did “not compare to any other scream,” one tourist said.
“They’re in shock,” Police Sgt. Nelson Sotelo told the Associated Press.
The Royal Caribbean-owned ship, Freedom of the Seas, was docked in the capital, San Juan, when the girl fell Sunday afternoon, according to the police report.
Authorities said Anello and the rest of the family — Wiegand’s parents, two siblings and grandparents from both sides of her family — will remain in Puerto Rico to be interviewed this week. They will stay until the investigation finishes, the AP reported.
Anello, a resident of Valparaiso, Ind., who is the child’s maternal grandfather, is being investigated, Sotelo told the AP. The Post could not reach Anello for comment. The family is working with a criminal lawyer in Puerto Rico, according to Miami-based lawyer Michael Winkleman, who is also representing the family and said they have had trouble with language barriers.
While Winkleman said he has questions about what happened, he said he believes that the cruise line was negligent and that he is looking into filing a lawsuit against Royal Caribbean over what he called a “preventable tragedy.” His firm is working to get video footage of the incident and is planning to inspect the ship.
Chloe and her grandfather were in a water play zone with a wall of windows when the girl fell, he said.
“Why would you ever, in a kid’s play area, put windows that passengers can open?” Winkleman told reporters Tuesday at a news conference, adding that many newer ships do not allow this.
Chloe loved to bang on the glass at her older brother’s hockey games, he said. So Anello lifted her up onto a wooden railing by the wall of windows on the ship, thinking she could have fun.
“She goes to bang on the glass and the next moment she’s gone,” Winkleman said.
Winkleman — who said none of Chloe’s family members opened the window — said the cruise line could have at least placed signs or stickers alerting people about the windows’ “hidden danger."
He believes Chloe’s body will be released Tuesday. Royal Caribbean has been helping the family with accommodations and flights, he said.
“They’re beside themselves, absolutely just horrified by what happened,” Winkleman said of the family. Anello, he said, cried throughout his interview with the lawyer.
Royal Caribbean said it was “deeply saddened” by the incident and expressed sympathies to the family.
Company spokesman Owen Torres did not address questions about the company’s safety protocols and the accusations of negligence. He said only that the company is working with local authorities.
As news of the death reached Indiana, the South Bend police force — where Chloe’s father, Alan Wiegand, is an officer — called on the community to support the family. South Bend mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg also expressed condolences Monday on Twitter.
Authorities have offered multiple accounts of what happened before Wiegand’s fatal fall.
Speaking to local news station WSBT 22, South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski said that earlier statements from a Puerto Rican public safety official that the girl had been held out the window were incorrect.
Speaking to The Post on Monday, Rivera said only that the girl and Anello were at the window. And a local Port Authority spokesman told CNN yet another version of the story, saying Anello sat the child in a window with an open pane, then lost his balance.
The Post could not immediately reach Alan Wiegand, and a spokesperson for the South Bend Police Department has not responded to The Post’s inquiries. The Post was directed to the Puerto Rican tourism department and then back to the Public Safety Department after contacting the Port Authority.
The ship was set to leave Sunday evening with more than 3,600 passengers on a seven-day eastern Caribbean trip from San Juan, according to the cruise site Seascanner. According to the AP, it had returned Sunday to the capital’s Pan American dock after another week-long trip.
The cruise was delayed as investigators interviewed passengers about the incident, the Primera Hora newspaper reported. But the ship continued on its way later, Rivera told The Post. As of Monday, Freedom of the Seas was in Philipsburg, on the Dutch side of the island of Saint Martin, according to Seascanner.
This story has been updated.