Bronx Zoo tiger attack: Mahopac man wanted to 'be one' with tiger, NYPD says
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New York City police intend to arrest a Mahopac man who told them he wanted to "be one" with a 400-pound tiger that mauled him at the Bronx Zoo Friday.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said Saturday that David Villalobos, 25, told investigators that he deliberately leaped into a zoo exhibit.
Police had said earlier that Villalobos admitted to police that he'd made a conscious decision to jump from a Zoo monorail into the animal's den, but that his motives were unclear.
But during an interview Saturday at the hospital, Villalobos told detectives that "his leap was definitely not a suicide attempt, but a desire to be one with the tiger," Browne said.
Villalobos was riding the elevated Wild Asia Monorail shortly after 3 p.m. Friday when he jumped, cleared a fence, and plummeted about 20 feet into the tigers' area, zoo officials said.
He underwent surgery at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx Friday night. Villalobos, who was bitten numerous times and broke his arm and his ankle in the fall, was in stable condition Saturday, a hospital spokeswoman said, refusing to provide additional information at the request of the family.
A teenager who answered the door of the family's Mahopac home Saturday and identified himself as Villalobos' brother but did not want to be named said Villalobos was "OK" and was well enough to talk. He refused to comment further, saying his family had asked him not to speak to media.
Neighbor Susan Panzarino, who has lived across the street from Villalobos' family for 14 years, said she could not fathom what prompted Villalobos' actions. She described his family as "in a state of shock."
"I watched him grow up. He always seemed fine to me," she said.
On Thursday, Villalobos, whom police described as "an emotionally disturbed man," posted a range of photos and quotes to his Facebook page at least 35 times. One posting: A photo of a tiger licking a cub with the comment, "Nice," another, the dictionary definition of insanity with a video of The Doors song "People are Strange."
His last status update was on Friday: A quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Love and you shall be loved."
After he jumped into the tiger enclosure Friday, Villalobos was alone with a Siberian tiger named Bashuta for about 10 minutes before he was rescued by zoo officials, who used a fire extinguisher to chase the animal away, zoo director Jim Breheny said. He suffered bites and punctures on his arms, legs, shoulders and back and broke an arm and a leg.
Villalobos was incapacitated when the tiger bit him, Breheny said. However, zoo officials don't believe the tiger intended to kill the Mahopac man.
"Tigers are extremely capable predators and what they typically do is grab a prey animal by the back of the neck and it's over very quickly," Breheny said. "This cat did not do this to this individual."
Villalobos is a 2006 graduate of Mahopac High School, and played on the football team there, according to records. More recently, he was a real estate agent with New York City-based BOND New York. He's no longer employed with the company.
"On behalf of BOND New York we would like to extend our sincerest well wishes to David for a speedy recovery. He and his family are in our thoughts and prayers," said the company's founder, Bruno Ricciotti, in a statement issued Saturday.
Neighbor Chris Panzarino described Villalobos as "a very good guy" who "would help you with anything."
Paul Giarraputo, who went to Mahopac High School with Villalobos, described his former classmate as a spiritual man who posted strange updates on Facebook and listed "the world of animals" among his interests in his profile on the social networking site.
"I can't put a word to describe it but a little strange to say the least," Giarraputo said of the stream-of-consciousness notes Villalobos posted to Facebook.
Annie Albohn, who lives across the street, said she has known Villalobos and his family for years.
"He's a nice kid, that's all I can say," Albohn said. "His parents are wonderful people."
Breheny said the zoo has no plans to put the tiger down, and said he did not fault the animal for its natural defense instinct. He also said it was the first incident in the zoo's history of someone jumping into an exhibit from the monorail.
"This is just an extraordinary occurrence because someone was deliberately trying to endanger themselves," he said.
With The Associated Press