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Chimp Owner's 911 Call: 'He Ripped Her Face Off'

The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 24, 2013 at 02:08 AM
STAMFORD, Conn. -

The frantic owner of a 200-pound chimpanzee that went berserk in Connecticut pleaded with police over the phone to help her stop the animal from mauling her friend, begging them to "Hurry, please! He ripped her face off."

Police in Stamford released 911 tapes of Sandra Herold's desperate call to police Monday as her 15-year-old chimp, Travis, was attacking 55-year-old Charla Nash.

The chimp can be heard grunting at times on the tape, as Herold cries, "He's killing my friend!"

The dispatcher says, "Who's killing your friend?"

Herold replies, "My chimpanzee! He ripped her apart! Shoot him, shoot him!"

After police arrive, one officer radios back: "There's a man down. He doesn't look good," he says, referring to the disfigured Nash. "We've got to get this guy out of here. He's got no face."

The chimp attacked Nash as Herold, 70, frantically stabbed her beloved pet with a butcher knife and pounded him with a shovel.

"He looked at me like, 'Mom, what did you do?"' Herold told NBC's "Today" show in an interview aired Wednesday. "It was horrific what happened and I had to do what I had to do, but still, I'll miss him for the rest of my life."

Nash remained was in critical condition early Wednesday with major injuries to her face and hands.

Police said they are looking into the possibility of criminal charges. A pet owner can be held criminally responsible if he or she knew or should have known that an animal was a danger to others.

Police said that the chimp was agitated earlier Monday and that Herold had given him the anti-anxiety drug Xanax in some tea. Police said the drug had not been prescribed for the 14-year-old chimp.

In humans, Xanax can cause memory loss, lack of coordination, reduced sex drive and other side effects. It can also lead to aggression in people who were unstable to begin with, said Dr. Emil Coccaro, chief of psychiatry at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

"Xanax could have made him worse," if human studies are any indication, Coccaro said.

Investigators said they were also told that Travis had Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness with flu-like symptoms that can lead to arthritis and meningitis in humans.

"Maybe from the medications he was out of sorts," Stamford police Capt. Richard Conklin said.

Nash had gone to Herold's home in Stamford on Monday to help her coax the chimp back into the house after he got out, police said. After the animal lunged at Nash when she got out of her car, Herold ran inside to call 911 and returned with a knife.

After the initial attack, Travis ran away and started roaming Herold's property until police arrived, setting up security so medics could reach the critically injured woman, Conklin said.

But the chimpanzee returned and went after several of the officers, who retreated into their cars, Conklin said. An officer shot Travis several times after the animal opened the door to his cruiser and started to get in.

The wounded chimpanzee fled into the house and retreated to his living quarters, where he died.

Herold, a widow whose daughter was killed in a car accident several years ago, told the Today Show that the incident was "a freak thing."

She said Travis "couldn't have been more my son than if I gave birth to him," and rejected criticism that chimpanzees are inappropriate pets.

"It's a horrible thing, but I'm not a horrible person and he's not a horrible chimp." she said.

The unexplained attack was uncharacteristic of Travis, a veteran of TV commercials who could eat at the table, drink wine from a stemmed glass, use the toilet, and dress and bathe himself.

Don Mecca, a family friend from Colchester, N.Y., said Herold fed the chimp steak, lobster, ice cream and Italian food.

Travis brushed his teeth with a Water Pik, logged on to a computer to look at photos and channel-surfed television with the remote control.

Colleen McCann, a primatologist at the Bronx Zoo, said chimpanzees are unpredictable and dangerous even after living among humans for years.

"I don't know the effects of Lyme disease on chimpanzees, but I will say that it's deceiving to think that if any animal is, quote-unquote, well-behaved around humans that means there is no risk involved to humans for potential outbursts of behavior," she said. "They are unpredictable, and in instances like this you cannot control that behavior or prevent it from happening if it is in a private home."

Connecticut law requires anyone who owns a primate heavier than 50 pounds to obtain a state permit. But Herold was exempted from the law.

When he was younger, Travis starred in TV commercials for Old Navy and Coca-Cola, made an appearance on the "Maury Povich Show" and took part in a television pilot, according to a 2003 story in The Advocate newspaper of Stamford.

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