Where Was The Village? – On Parenting, Harambe, and Helpers



Unless you live under a rock, you’ve seen the news reports about the little boy who fell into the Gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. You’ve probably also heard the name calling, finger pointing, and blame.  Blame the mom for not watching her child. Blame the zoo for not making it’s enclosures more secure. Blame, blame and more blame.

What happened was an accident, a terrible, terrifying accident that ended in a heartbreaking tragedy.  Accidents happen, BUT most accidents can be prevented.  And this is one of them.

I’m not blaming mom. Did she look away from her child?  Yes. Did he run away, and end up in a seriously dangerous situation?  Yes. But, I can’t put sole responsibility on her. If you say “My child has never bolted or wandered off!” You’d be lying. If you think “This would never happen to me!” You’d be wrong. It can happen to any of us. The best parents, the best kids.

I’m a mom of one. And in general, it is pretty easy to keep track of my singleton. We’re either one on one, or if my husband is there, two on one.  Which is pretty good coverage.  You’d think, it would be nearly impossible for me to lose track of my kid.

You’d be wrong.

I’ve been there, fortunately for us, it didn’t result in serious injury, or serious danger. I’ve lost Avery. In the second it took me to turn away from her to try on a winter coat, she was gone. A child who had NEVER strayed from my side. Something caught her eye, and she wandered away to investigate.  I turned back to ask if she liked the jacket, and she was gone. I called her name, and she didn’t respond. I realized we were only steps away from the door of the store.  Did she go outside?  Did someone take her? Every worst case scenario flashed through my head. I had only turned around for a second. She had been right next to me.  It felt like hours, but truly was only a matter of minutes….moments… but in that time I thought my world was ending. I found her, sitting terrified net to the bikes.  She had seen a pink bike, wanted a closer look, but when she tried to get back to me she was disoriented and couldn’t find her way back through all the racks.  It took one second. It only takes one second.

As parents we do need to be responsible. We do need to stay vigilant. We do need to know where our kids are and what they are doing.  But, things happen. Most parents take precautions, they may know their child is a “runner” and they may keep them in a stroller, or use a harness/”leash” but sometimes we let our guard down. All of us. And sometimes, our child who NEVER runs off, does.

I’m not going to blame the zoo, either.  Could the enclosure be more secure?  Certainly. I mean, things can always be “better” but honestly, you can’t protect everyone from everything. A fence, a barrier, and a 15 foot drop, should be secure enough to protect most people.  Our local zoo has plenty of exhibits where you COULD probably get in, if you really wanted to.  Could I climb the fence and jump into the seal tank?  Yup! Could I climb over the chain link, and drop into the wolf enclosure?  Sure could! Could my preschooler crawl under the rope, the only thing between her and the kangaroos, and slide down into the little pit where they hang out?  Yes. And I’ve seen other children do it. More than once. The zoo was put into a most terrible position, and they did what they had to do given the circumstances.

So who do I blame?

I blame us.  I blame the people who just look on. Who watch. The people who film, because having something great to put on instagram is more important than helping someone.  The people who say “Not my kid….”  The people who do nothing.

Where is the village we talk so much about?  Where are we when one of our own is in danger?

We fear the repercussions of helping. “Oh, It’s not my kid….I don’t want to interfere…that’s the mom’s job…what if the mom gets mad at me for trying to help…”  WHO CARES?  Just like the sign I see on bus stops and billboards. See Something, Say Something!

I have read multiple accounts from witnesses saying “I saw him crawling towards the edge”  and “My husband is the one filming, you can hear me shouting at the gorilla” or “He was quick! I watch him climb over the fence…”   And nobody, not one person thought “Hmmm, Maybe I should grab this kid before he gets hurt”

I’ve grabbed kids at the playground before they were kicked in the face by another child on a swing. I’ve helped a child off a carousel horse when her foot was stuck and she was falling.  I’ve stood with children who were lost in a store and couldn’t find their mom… I’ve helped.

Where were the helpers?!

I wasn’t there…I guess I don’t really know how it all went down, but I do know there were a lot of people there. I know that someone saw this kid climbing over, under, through the enclosure prior to falling into the pit below.  I know that not one person helped.  I know the village failed. The village said “Not my kid, not my problem”

If we’re going to talk about the village, and how it takes one to raise a child, we need to BE the village. We need to support other moms, help children even if they are not our own. We need to look out for one another.  Not just in moments like this, but all the time. The exhausted mom, holding a crying newborn, whose toddler just knocked over a cup of chocolate milk, the little girl who  wanders a bit too far away from the car while her mom is getting her brother out of his car seat, the dad calling to his daughter who seems to be taking too long in the girls room…  Just help. Look out for one another. It only takes a second to tell that dad “I’ll check to make sure she’s ok” or to stop, and guide the little girl back to her mom, and away from the busy parking lot, or grab napkins and tell the mom “I’ve got it, don’t worry”  or to grab a child climbing a fence, and say “Oh, hang on buddy, I don’t think that is safe.”   You’d want someone to do the same for you, right?  I know I would. I’d much rather have a stranger grab my daughter’s hand, than to have them ignore it, and have her be hit by a car.

Because it only takes a second.

So let’s stop placing the blame, and lets make a change in how we treat and care for each other.

We need to be the village. We need to be the helpers.

It could be your child, it could be my child. We are responsible for ALL children. We are their protectors.

Let’s BE the village.


  1. Sean says:

    This was a great article. When this all came out I originally put the blame on the mother for not watching her child. But again, maybe she had more than one child, maybe she was tending to a younger child. I get it. It was a tragedy.

  2. Mariah Warren says:

    Spot on, Sarah. How can people be so quick to film incidents but slow/nonexistent to help? I admit that I would be hesitant in a less dangerous situation, for fear of stepping on the parent’s toes, but when there’s a real risk, I hope I would jump in to prevent harm. We do have a societal responsibility, to teach ALL children well, not just our own.

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