June 1, 2016 12:01 pm
Updated: June 1, 2016 4:15 pm

Harambe’s death: Is the parent-shaming over gorilla’s death going overboard?

Cincinnati police are investigating the parents of a 4-year-old boy who fell into a gorilla enclosure but not the safety or operation of The Cincinnati Zoo.


The curious four-year-old boy fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and, ultimately, zoo officials shot Harambe, the 400-pound gorilla, to death.

It’s a tragedy that’s sparked an outpouring of parent-shaming, but the public needs to remember: this is a freak accident that could’ve happened to any other parent, experts say.

“All of us take our eyes off of our kids for two seconds…from that perspective, I do think this could’ve happened to any of us. This wasn’t a case of neglect,” Alyson Schafer, a Canadian parenting expert and author, told Global News.

WATCH: 911 call from Michelle Gregg after son falls into gorilla enclosure at Cincinnati Zoo

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“Whenever there’s a tragedy, people want to blame somebody. It helps them deal with their own high emotions…it’s easy to put the parents as the target because we’re the guardian of our children,” Schafer says.

READ MORE: Should there be charges for Cincinnati zoo kid’s parents?

Authorities are looking into the parents’ actions leading up to the incident. Online anger is spewing with some people suggesting the boy’s mother should be charged with child endangerment while others say they want the zoo held responsible for the animal’s death.

In the latest developments, a change.org petition — called Justice for Harambe — is calling on officials to look into the child’s home environment and protect him and siblings from “further incidents of parental negligence.”

“We the undersigned feel the child’s safety is paramount in this situation,” the petition reads. It’s already garnered 440,000 signatures.

Michelle Gregg, who happens to share the same name as the parent of the boy, faced some of the online abuse.

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But experts and columnists say parents need to remember: this could’ve happened to them, too.

“Parent shaming is all about reverse-engineering a moment. A bad thing happened; parents are supposed to prevent bad things from happening; therefore a parent must be to blame. A child would certainly never fall into a gorilla enclosure on my watch,” a TIME opinion piece reads.

“If she’d been doing her job as a mother, there’s no way this would have happened, right?” Ijeoma Oluo writes in the UK’s the Guardian.

“If you believe that, you either don’t know anything about raising small children, or you’ve been blessed with unnaturally docile kids,” Oluo says in a piece titled, ‘Every mother knows it could happen to her.’

READ MORE: Wrong Michelle Gregg harassed online over child who fell into gorilla enclosure

Perhaps that’s why parents turn to blaming their peers, suggests parenting expert and author, Ann Douglas.

“When something shocking or alarming happens, we look for reassurance that we can avoid a similarly catastrophic situation ourselves by acting in a certain way or by being a certain type of person or parent,” Douglas told Global News.

“It’s easier to pin the blame on a momentarily distracted mom or dad and to lambast the parent for being negligent or neglectful than it is to accept the fact that sometimes accidents happen, despite our best efforts to keep our children safe. That’s a scary thing for any parent to accept,” she explained.

READ MORE: Ohio zoo kills gorilla after 4-year-old falls in enclosure

Schafer agreed. She says that parents protect their value and worth by promising they’d never let the same thing happen to their child. It’s consoling instead of thinking of how easily the incident could have happened to them.

Keep in mind, this parent-shaming is adding to the guilt the family is likely already dealing with, Schafer added.

Gregg, in a Facebook post, thanked the public for their thoughts and prayers.

“As a society, we are quick to judge how a parent could take their eyes off their child and if anyone knows me, I keep a tight watch on my kids. Accidents happen but I am thankful that the right people were in the right place today,” she wrote.

She closed her Facebook account.

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  • With files from Emanuela Campanella and the Associated Press


© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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