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Ohio sheriff: 48 exotic animals killed after owner opens cages before committing suicide

Associated Press

ZANESVILLE, Ohio (AP) -- Sheriff's deputies shot nearly 50 lions, tigers and other beasts in a big-game hunt across the Ohio countryside Wednesday after the owner of a wild-animal park threw their cages open and committed suicide in what may have been one last act of vengeance against neighbors and police.

As homeowners nervously took cover indoors, officers spread out through fields and woods to hunt down about 56 animals, including bears, wolves and monkeys.

After an all-night hunt that extended into the afternoon, 48 animals had been gunned down and six captured alive and taken to the Columbus Zoo, authorities said. As of midafternoon, the only animals still on the loose were a wolf and a monkey, according to the sheriff's office.

Schools closed in the mostly rural area of widely spaced homes 55 miles east of Columbus. Parents were warned to keep children and pets indoors. And flashing signs along highways told motorists, "Caution exotic animals" and "Stay in vehicle."

Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said at an afternoon news conference that the danger had passed and they could reopen. The animals killed included 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, eight bears and a wolf, he said.

The only animals not found were a wolf and a monkey. Authorities said the monkey should be shot if caught because it could be carrying a disease.

The owner of the privately run Muskingum County Animal Farm, Terry Thompson, left the cages open and the fences unsecured before committing suicide, Lutz said earlier.

Authorities would not say how he killed himself, and Lutz wouldn't speculate on why he did it or why he went out with what appeared to be one last act of vengeance.

But Thompson had had repeated run-ins with the law, and Lutz said the sheriff's office had received numerous complaints since 2004 about animals escaping from the property. Thompson had gotten out of federal prison just last month after serving a year for possessing unregistered guns.

"This is a bad situation," the sheriff said earlier. "It's been a situation for a long time."