As more details emerge, family mourns teen killed by tiger

As more details emerged about the chaos during a tiger’s attack of three young men at the San Francisco Zoo, family and friends mourned the teenager who was killed.

About 100 people gathered Saturday outside the San Jose home of Carlos Sousa Jr.'s grandmother for a vigil. Many held candles in cups and were silent as Sousa’s father stood on the doorstep in front of two enlarged photos of him and his son.

“I would like to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for coming here and honoring my son Carlos. My son Carlos was a very good boy” said Carlos Sousa Sr., choking back tears. “I can see that he had a lot of friends here. I want you all to remember the good things that he did and carry this with you in your hearts for as long as you can.”

A 350-pound Siberian tiger killed Sousa Jr. and seriously hurt two of his friends after escaping from its enclosure. Paul Dhaliwal, 19, and Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23, were released from the hospital Saturday. The brothers suffered severe bite and claw wounds.

Police said Sousa Jr.'s neck was slashed while the teen tried to scare away the tiger after it attacked Kulbir Dhaliwal. Sousa, 17, died at the scene just before the zoo’s closing time on Christmas Day.

A funeral for Sousa is scheduled for Jan. 8 in San Jose.

Police radio transcripts revealed a chaotic scene at the San Francisco Zoo as zookeepers scrambled to locate and sedate the animal, and medics refused to enter until they knew they would be safe.

Zoo employees also initially questioned whether early reports of the attack were coming from a mentally unstable person, according to an 18-page log of communications from police dispatchers to officers and emergency responders at the scene.

According to the logs, zoo personnel initially told police that two men reporting the escaped tiger might be mentally disturbed and “making something up,” though one was bleeding from the back of the head.

Two minutes later, at 5:10 p.m., zoo employees reported that a tiger was loose and, at 5:13 p.m., the zoo was being evacuated and locked down as fire department responders arrived.

For several minutes, medics refused to enter the zoo until it had been secured. Meanwhile, zookeepers were trying to round up what they initially believed to be multiple tigers.

“Zoo personnel have the tiger in sight and are dealing with it,” reads a 5:17 p.m. note on the transcript.

The transcript does not indicate when police or emergency responders entered, but by 5:20 p.m. medics had located one victim with a large puncture hole to his neck. The tiger was still loose.

As medics attended to the victim, an officer spotted the tiger sitting down before it fled and began attacking another victim, according to the logs.

At 5:27 p.m., less than 20 minutes after the initial reports were made, the officers began firing, killing the tiger.

It was unclear whether letting police and medics into the zoo sooner would have altered the outcome of the attacks or subjected emergency responders to greater danger with a tiger on the loose.

It has become increasingly clear that the tiger climbed over the wall of its enclosure, which at just under 121/2 high was about 4 feet below the recommended minimum for U.S. zoos.

Zoo officials said the zoo would reopen Thursday.

In the wake of the attack, the Oakland Zoo across San Francisco Bay plans to raise the height of the walls surrounding its tiger enclosure.

The concrete wall and chain-link fence surrounding the two tigers range from 131/2 feet to 16 feet, and the zoo is deciding how much higher to raise the pen, said Oakland Zoo executive director Joel Parrott. Its tiger exhibit includes a female Bengal tiger weighing 230 pounds and a female Siberian-Bengal mix weighing 305 pounds.