Three-year-old Rivers Noah Heard is happy to be home with his family — and lucky to be alive after surviving a tangle with a 340-pound gorilla.
"We are just so happy he's recovering," said Amos Heard, Rivers' father. "He is a strong little guy. The gorilla hurt him very badly, puncturing a lung and biting his head. He'll have some scars from this. But we are really amazed he's still with us."
The Mesquite, Texas, boy is still shaken up and in pain, but is "doing pretty well, considering," his father said.
The Heard family was enjoying a relaxing day at the Dallas Zoo when the unthinkable happened. A gorilla got loose and attacked two adults, as well as Rivers. Enrique DeLeon Jr. was one of the first to call 911.
"I'm in the Dallas Zoo. There's a gorilla on the loose and it's going after people," DeLeon said, according to a call logged at 4:46 p.m. on March 18.
"Are you serious?" asked the operator.
"I'm serious," DeLeon said. "I swear to God. I am not joking. There's people yelling. It's going after people!"
A Reign of Terror
An adult gorilla named Jabari escaped from his two-acre enclosure, somehow scaling a 16-foot-tall barrier topped by electrical wire in a breakout that has left zoo officials baffled. But what happened next was all too clear. Jabari went on a 40-minute reign of terror. Some zoo visitors were fortunate enough to escape injury. Others were not so lucky.
In the midst of his rampage, Jabari picked little Rivers up in his mouth, shaking the boy like a rag doll. His mom, Keisha, suffered leg wounds herself while desperately trying to free her son. One other woman, Cheryl Reichert, 39, was trapped in the zoo's aviary after being attacked. She suffered arm wounds.
"The gorilla just came so fast, just ran so fast, and he just grabbed him up and he was biting him in his side," Keisha Heard told Good Morning America the day after the attack. "I ran over to him and then the gorilla swung his arm out and he slung me. And then I got back up and was going back over there and he dropped Rivers. Then he ran off."
Next Rivers and his mother tried to run away, into another exhibit, but the doors wouldn't open. Then the gorilla came back and attacked both of them a second time. She picked Rivers up and raced to a hill, where someone with a wire cutter sliced a hole into the fence so that she and her son could get out.
Family Wants Investigation
Rivers might not have made it through the gorilla rampage if it were not for his mother, who is still recovering from her own wounds.
"I'm still in pain, but I'm doing much better," Keisha Heard said. "The gorilla bit me really deeply when I was trying to get Rivers back from him."
After the attack, 3-year-old Rivers had scars to remind him of the close encounter with the animal. His lung started to collapse, and bite marks on his back serve as a frightening reminder. Police eventually shot and killed 13-year-old Jabari after he charged several officers.
Now Rivers' family wants answers about who is responsible.
"There is still an investigation going on and we'll just have to wait and see what it finds," Amos Heard said. "But someone is to blame. And whoever it is needs to be held accountable."
Emotionally, Rivers is still badly traumatized and is seeing a counselor, his father said.
"We're worried about him," Amos Heard said. "He isn't quite as happy as he used to be."