A 62-year-old Chicago woman has been charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct for allegedly telling a crisis hotline employee that she intended to harm herself and visitors at Brookfield Zoo, leading to a lockdown that last for more than two hours on July 5.
Local police investigators, assisted by the FBI, the Illinois State Police intelligence unit and the Chicago Police Department’s intelligence unit, were able to track down the caller via her cellphone, which she used to transmit threats by text and phone calls, according to police. She was arrested at her home shortly after police conducted a press conference outside the zoo at 8:30 p.m.
The woman reportedly was cooperative and agreed to be interviewed, after which police and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office agreed on the misdemeanor charge, although other charges could be pursued, police said.
Afterward, a crisis intervention worker assessed the woman, who was transported to a hospital for further mental health treatment.
The Landmark is not naming the alleged offender, because the newspaper’s policy is to not name those charged with misdemeanor crimes.
“On the heels of the incredibly tragic events that occurred in Highland Park on Monday, this incident elicited a rapid response from law enforcement that addressed this matter without hesitation, to which I could not be more proud and grateful for,” said Brookfield Police Chief Michael Kuruvilla in a press release. “We are also relieved to have assisted the Brookfield Zoo Police in confirming there is no longer a threat to Brookfield Zoo by locating and addressing this individual appropriately.”
The incident unfolded as Chicago area residents were still reeling from a mass shooting at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade that claimed the lives of seven people and wounded two dozen more.
While in the end police determined there was no threat, the response reflected the heightened tension in the wake of a string of high-profile shootings at public places throughout the United States.
At a press conference outside the Brookfield Zoo’s South Gate at about 8:30 p.m. on July 5, the zoo’s police chief, Mike Pendola, said the lockdown was initiated after a crisis hotline employee called the West Central Consolidated Communications (WC3) dispatch center at about 5:15 p.m. – about 45 minutes prior to the zoo’s closing time — to report that a female caller had threatened to harm herself and visitors at Brookfield Zoo.
Brookfield and Riverside police, along with the zoo’s police force, initially responded to the scene, with Riverside Public Safety Director Matthew Buckley taking the lead on the zoo clearance operation. Employees and visitors were instructed to shelter in place as police began to systematically secure the grounds and buildings.
Over the next couple of hours, roughly 50 police officers from local, county, state and federal police agencies, including police dog units, responded to Brookfield Zoo to assist in that effort.
“We had a tremendous response of resources, and I think that the officers that responded, perhaps they did have that Highland Park incident in the back of their minds, and felt they wanted to come out and give that extra support to the zoo,” Pendola said.
Shortly before 7 p.m., police began escorting visitors and employees out of the zoo in small groups as officers cleared areas of the zoological park. Those remaining inside received the all clear by 7:30 p.m., according to a statement issued by Brookfield Zoo. Police began leaving the scene around 8 p.m.
Pendola declined to describe the specific nature of the threat called in to the crisis hotline.
“But we know right now the zoo is safe,” said Pendola. “It’s a safe place to come. We hope that guests are not concerned. We have our own police department and we had a tremendous response – maybe an overabundance of caution to have that many officers — but we felt that we wanted to, especially in light of the Highland Park incident, to make sure that we did everything in our power to keep our guests and staff safe, along with our animal collection.”
Brookfield Zoo opened at its normal time on July 6 and the park was operating “business as usual,” according to a zoo spokesperson.