By Seth Mnookin
On October 18, 2011, a 62-year-old, recently released convict named Terry Thompson freed eighteen tigers, seventeen lions, six black bears, and fifteen other "exotic animals" from a jumble of cages and pens on his 73-acre farm in Zanesville, Ohio. What happened next is not exactly clear, but it appears that Thompson pulled down his pants, smeared his crotch with chicken blood and viscera, and shot himself in the mouth with a .357 magnum. By the time authorities were able to recover his body, Thompson's genitalia had been eaten away; one or more of the animals had also gnawed on Thompson's head.
That those are some of the least remarkable details from the events that transpired that rainy October night should tell you something about the ensuing insanity. The first hint that something was wrong came around 5pm, when a neighbor named Sam Kopchak noticed a bear chasing some of Thompson's horses through a field; seconds later, Kopchak realized he was several feet away from a male African lion, who watched intently as Kopchak anxiously led one of his own horses to safety. By that point, there was barely an hour of daylight left before sunset -- and Thompson's farm was within a few miles of a nursing home, a gas station, a motel, and, most ominously, a school, which, at the time, happened to be hosting a children's soccer game on a playing field surrounded by woods.