The 18-month-old died Sunday after falling the equivalent of 11 storeys from the Freedom of the Seas cruise ship while it was docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico police say they’re investigating Chloe’s maternal grandfather, Salvatore “Sam” Anello, who was with the child at the time.
Chloe was perched on a railing in the play area before the fall, according to the family’s lawyer, Michael Winkleman. Anello placed her there thinking there was glass in front of her where there wasn’t, Winkleman told NBC News.
“Essentially, her grandfather lifts her up and puts her on a railing and where he thinks that there is glass there because it’s clear, but it turns out there was no glass there,” Winkleman said.
Winkleman says the girl was used to banging on the glass in the front row at her older brother’s hockey games, and claims she was trying to do the same thing on the cruise ship.
“She goes to bang on the glass like she would have at one of those hockey rinks, and next thing you know, she’s gone.”
The child was on a week-long Caribbean cruise with her parents, two siblings and both sets of grandparents when she fell, police have said. The entire family hails from Indiana, where Chloe’s father is a police officer in the city of South Bend.
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Winkleman says Chloe’s parents, Kimberly and Alan Wiegand, along with the rest of the family, are devastated by the incident. They also want to know why there was a gap in the glass surrounding the play area, which left room for the little girl to fall out.
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“Why in the world would you leave a window open in an entire glass wall full of windows in a kids’ area?” Winkleman said. “Why would you have that kind of a hidden danger without any warning, without any sign, without any notice?”
Winkleman says he’s expecting “significant blame” to fall on the cruise ship’s owner, and he plans to hold them accountable for potential negligence.
“If you have a wall of glass, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to put a child there thinking that there was glass there,” he told reporters in a separate media availability Tuesday morning.
Reporters pressed Winkleman, asking how the grandfather failed to notice the open 11th-storey window by the wind coming through it.
“I don’t know the answers to those questions,” he said.
Royal Caribbean Cruises, which owns the ship, called Chloe’s death a “tragic incident,” and pledged to help the family. The company says it will not comment further.
Winkleman says there is surveillance video of the incident and he’s calling for the cruise line to release it to the family.
“Video is worth 1,000 words,” he said.
Winkleman says the girl’s grandfather, Anello, hasn’t eaten and is barely talking.
“He was literally crying, saying, ‘I thought it was like she was at a hockey game,'” Winkleman told reporters. He added that Anello is not a drinker and no alcohol was involved.
The South Bend Police Department offered the family its condolences in a statement on Monday. The department asked “the community to pray for the entire Wiegand family as they grieve and to respect their privacy.”
South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski also disputed a statement given by Puerto Rico police on Monday, in which they said the child was being dangled out a window at the time of the fall. According to police, the grandfather did not dangle the child as previously reported.
A spokesperson for the Puerto Rico Ports Authority said the family was gathered near a dining hall on the 11th floor of the cruise ship, and that Chloe’s grandfather sat her down on the edge of a window. Officials are investigating whether the window was already open or if someone opened it just before the fall, the spokesperson told The Associated Press on Monday.
The family is expected to return home with Chloe’s body once coroners release it.
—With files from The Associated Press