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Franklin Park gorilla escapes, attacks 2

Ape cuts girl, 2, and bites zoo worker before recapture

In his second escape in two months, a 300-pound gorilla stormed out of the Franklin Park Zoo last night, attacking a 2-year-old girl and an off-duty zoo employee and leading authorities on a massive chase through darkened woods and along a nearby street until his capture nearly 2 hours later.

Both humans survived the ordeal. The 5-foot adolescent male gorilla, known as Little Joe, was shot at least four times with tranquilizer darts as a cordon of authorities used noise to try to drive him back toward the zoo. The animal, described as nervous outside his enclosure and energized by adrenaline, eluded authorities despite the initial shots of sedatives, drawing large crowds of curious spectators and even pausing for a rest at a bus stop.

More than 50 officials from Boston police, State Police, environmental police, the zoo, and the Animal Rescue League swarmed the area around the zoo, closing Blue Hill Avenue and all streets into Franklin Park. As the gorilla prowled the edge of the park, a police dispatcher was heard warning officers to "kill the lights" of their cruisers to avoid attracting the animal.

The gorilla escaped just before the zoo's 6 p.m. closing time. According to witnesses, the ape attacked 2-year-old Nia Scott and 18-year-old Courtney Roberson, a family friend and off-duty zoo employee who was with her. The animal bit Roberson and deeply scratched the toddler before attempting to attack other zoo workers huddled in fear inside an enclosed ticket booth.

The child, with a gash on her head, was taken to Boston Medical Center, where several stitches were required to close her wound, according to family members. Roberson was bitten on the back and scratched on the leg, according to her mother, Shamika Woumnm of Dorchester.

After Little Joe escaped the apes' enclosure at the Tropical Forest exhibit in the zoo, ticket-taker Nilsa Silva said, only a thin pane of glass separated her and some co-workers from the gorilla. Silva said the animal pressed his face against the glass, just inches from her own, and lifted his arms menacingly as he banged on the booth, apparently trying to get inside.

"I could smell him. He was really big and scary. We were trying hard not to scream," said Silva, 22, of Dorchester. "His hands were up on the booth, and he was trying to figure a way to get in.

"I was terrified," she said.

The gorilla's brush with freedom ended when he was captured, heavily sedated by tranquilizer darts, in a wooded area near Humboldt Avenue and Seaver Street. According to police, Little Joe collapsed on a trail that runs along the park's periphery.

Police and zoo personnel wrapped the gorilla in netting and secured his hands and feet before placing him on a stretcher and taking him back to the zoo in a van. "It's the same basic approach as dealing with an emotionally disturbed person," said police Superintendent Robert Dunford.

Zoo officials said later that the gorilla would not be destroyed, but they were uncertain about when Joe would be displayed to the public again. John Linehan, president and CEO of Zoo New England, said an intense review would begin today to prevent future escapes.

"Nothing is ever static," Linehan said, adding that live cameras and changes to the rock structure in the Tropical Forest exhibit might be ordered.

In Little Joe's previous escape, on Aug. 13, he exited the apes' enclosure but did not leave zoo grounds. He was recaptured without further incident, and zoo officials said they would add electrified wires to the top of the enclosure in an effort to deter a repeat of the episode.

But yesterday, while Little Joe was on the lam, a wild and at times bizarre chain of events played out in the streets and neighborhoods surrounding Franklin Park.

Mark Matthews, a firefighter who lives on Seaver Street, heard the reports of the gorilla chase on his police scanner.

"I saw the gorilla sitting at the bus stop. Everybody was scared, including the police. They hit him twice with a tranquilizer gun," Matthews said.

Rhonda Devance saw the gorilla at Seaver and Harold streets. "I thought it was a person," she said. "I thought it was a guy with a big black jacket and a snorkel on." Tiffany Rice, 15, who lives on Crestwood Park, where Nia Scott lives, was out with her 5-year-old brother, Matthew Branch, to get ice cream. Her aunt came by and told them a gorilla was loose. They screamed and ran inside.

Boston police said the gorilla was hit with four tranquilizer darts but had managed to pull at least one of them out. The gorilla was seen pounding his chest with both hands shortly after escaping, police said.

Patrolman John Dorris summed it up. "I thought I'd seen it all in 18 years," he said.

Relatives of Scott said Roberson had taken the child to the zoo for an outing. The ape knocked Nia from Roberson's arms and bit Roberson in the back before the young woman tried unsuccessfully to close a door locking the gorilla inside.

Silva, the ticket taker, said Roberson screamed "Code One" -- zoo lingo for a dangerous animal on the loose -- to warn fellow employees.

Terry Scott, Nia's mother, rushed to Boston Medical Center.

"The gorilla snatched my baby," Scott said. "This gorilla, this bastard, jumped on my 2-year-old. My baby's going to have to be all stitched up." After Little Joe had been recaptured last night, zoo president Linehan said, "Of course, we're very regretful someone was injured."Prior to his escape last month, Little Joe had been kept in an enclosure surrounded by a 12-foot-wide, 12-foot-deep moat intended to contain even the most agile ape. But authorities said he was able to scale the wall and cross the moat because, as a typical adolescent, he had not yet gained the weight to match his long arms. The escape last month alarmed zoo staff because it was the first from the Franklin Park facility. Globe correspondents Adam Krauss and Leila A. Fadel contributed to this report, which was written by Globe correspondent John McElhenny.

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