Lessons from the Cincinnati Zoo: What to do When a Child is LOST in an Amusement Park

Yes, the parents at the Cicinnati Zoo failed to keep their child safe. The four-year-old who’d reportedly said over and over that he wanted to swim with the gorillas, somehow climbed into the exhibit, fell more than 10 feet into the moat AND came face to face with a 400 pound gorilla. Anyone who visited Facebook this weekend, couldn’t avoid the shocking video of the gorilla dragging the child through the water and hovering over him. The Cincinnati zoo chose to shoot and kill seventeen-year-old, endangered Harambe –  because using tranquilizer dart would have startled him, possibly made him violent towards the child and take several minutes to take effect. This is all according to major media like Cincinnati affiliate, WLWT and CNN.

Here’s the shocking video from the CNN Facebook page:

Instead of bashing the parents (which believe me, I did in my mind) like plenty of people are doing online, I’m providing some real applicable information on what do to if your child is lost in an amusement park or a public place. But if you choose, you can sign the online petition to have the parents investigated for neglect.


Six Flags Tweetie Bird

Lost Child Cincinnati

Lessons from the Cincinnati Zoo


Show your children a map of the park online. Explain the places you plan to visit and ask what are their favorite exhibits. Plan ahead to spend extra time there!

Remind them how important it is to stay together.  I know this is logical for adults, but not not so much for little ones.

Teach them your real name (not Mom and Dad) and your cell phone number. A.J. has known his full name, our full names, phone numbers and even his Grandma’s phone number since before he turned two. I was shocked when we recently moved, he memorized the new address faster than I did and remembered our neighbor’s address!

A.J. & Grandma world of coca cola



Add identifying information TO YOUR CHILDREN. Some parents choose to attach safety or identifying bracelets or use a sharpie to write your name & phone number on their arm. You can also buy products like SafetyTat.com for child safe tattoos and your contact information.



Put the park’s emergency number on your smartphone’s speed dial. I was blown away when watching the cell phone video from the Cincinnati Zoo that people were yelling “Call 911! Call 911” Well that’s all well and good when you’re in public. But zoos and amusement parks are private property. Call the park directly and ask for help. Many parks have an emergency option on their automated system.

From now on I’m keeping every park’s number in my phone and asking for a direct line to park security for emergencies.

Bring your child’s allergy and daily medication. Before our first visit to Walt Disney World, we got A.J.’s first Epipen. Although there are emergency stations throughout the park now with allergy medication, I wanted to be sure we had our own. If your child is lost for minutes or hours, they could miss their scheduled dosage. Have it handy for when you find them.

Free epipen coupon


Download the Going Out Checklist.  The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children provides this helpful list to go over with your children before headed out to public places.


KidSmartz Checklist


Comment below: Have you done any of these steps before your family visited an amusement park or attraction? How well did they work?

[Tweet “Download this safety checklist for families before you visit parks & attractions:”]


Lost in an Amusement Park


Take a photo of your child as soon as you arrive. If they’re lost, park staff and police will need to know what they were wearing today – not what they wore in the last photo on your phone.

Identify safe personnel to your child. When we visited Six Flags Over Georgia this week for the opening of the DC Super Friends Park, I used it as an opportunity to have a “safety talk” with A.J.

MOMMY: “Who would you ask for help of you were lost?”

A.J.: “A security officer.”

MOMMY: “What if you didn’t see a security officer?”

I explained to him how to identify park staff with uniforms and name tags. I told him he should ask a Six Flags employee for help if he was lost.

Another tip: Tell your children to ask another mom with kids for help!

Back in 2013, I interviewed the director for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children about “Stranger Danger” and you can watch it here:


About Joyce Brewer

Creator & Host of Mommy Talk Show. Emmy award-winning TV journalist.Wife & Mommy; Mom Blogger; Social Media Coach; Long Island, New York transplant living in Atlanta, GA. Follow Joyce on Twitter @MommyTalkShow Author of Use What You Know: A Business Idea Guide for Moms featuring interviews with mompreneurs who created businesses using their skills & backgrounds.

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  1. Robin Masshole Mommy

    Just thinking about this makes me cringe. Those bracelets are a good idea!!

  2. This is such an important post. The tragedy of the zoo aside, crowded environments are a perfect hunting ground for predators. You have got to keep your kids safe at all times.

  3. These are great tips. Everyone’s kid may not wind up in a gorilla cage but most of us have had a child make a run for it before.

  4. Love the idea of the tat! I can understand losing sight of a child especially when you have multiple kids. Guilty..

  5. I really love the safety tats! I have a child who has PTSD and when he’s stressed or something triggers him, he can barely remember his name…let along anything more difficult like our phone number. I also like the idea of programing park numbers into your phone. That’s such a wise idea!

    • I think these tats are great for children who may have problems being verbal OR what if a sick child is hurt or loses consciousness?!

  6. Pamela Lawrence

    This makes me so sad.

    • Are you sad because this is a necessary part of taking your children out in public or because of the whole zoo situation? Either way, it makes me sad too.

      • Pamela Lawrence

        I am saddened by the whole zoo situation. I cannot say much since I was not there to witness the events. I can only be saddened that a situation such as this occurred. I am glad that you are writing about this topic, however, since it is necessary to make sure your children are prepared in case they were lost/misplaced, etc.

  7. These are some really good ideas. Those Safety Tats are so helpful and super easy. I like the idea of taking a photo as you arrive too.

  8. It is so important for children to know what to do if they are separated from their parents! It’s also important for mom and dad to know what to do in an emergency. It’s great to think how you would handle an emergency situation, but until you’re faced with it you have no idea how you’ll react. I used to role play with my kids so they would have a better sense of what to do, if needed.

  9. I’ve seen that video, so sad for the child but so terrified that they had to kill the gorilla, it should be shot with a tranquilizer instead. Thanks for the great tips!

  10. This is a great post and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve read a different angle from that story and it seems that though it’s ultimately the parent’s “fault”, there was really no choice but to use a non-tranquilizer gun. A zoo keeper/expert was the one who shared her views for the story and she takes care of gorillas every time.

    • I read the same post by the zookeeper. I don’t think the zoo had any choice but to do what they did when Harambe wouldn’t follow orders and leave the child alone.

  11. What a neat concept, I am so over the gorilla story seriously. You would think these days society has lost compassion and empathy – it’s a sad scenario for all involved who were there I am sure. I do love that there are some lessons we can walk away and tips you shared here to assist in trying to deter other parents from having it happen. I wish I could hug that Mama because I am sure she feels awful.

  12. This story has been on my mind ever since it broke. I really think the parents should be held liable. It took than “just a few seconds” for that kid to climb into that exhibit. They also had plenty of warning, as the kid had already said that it wanted to climb in there. It isn’t the gorilla’s fault, and it’s death was needless and preventable. I don’t blame the zoo, either. They did what they inevitably had to do. The fault squarely lies with the parents in my book.

  13. These are great tips. We also had phone numbers memorized before they were 3. I like the idea of taking a picture the day of the outing as well.

    • I don’t think enough people realize how important it is for children to know their phone numbers. You can make it a fun game!

  14. This is a difficult situation to decipher, because ultimately we all weren’t “there.” I do pray that everyone from the zookeepers to the mom to all parents learn something from this

  15. This is such a great post. I was so tired of the my entire FB feed filled with vile thoughts about the zoo and the mom. It is one thing to have an opinion but the sheer volume of hate .. that negative energy should be used elsewhere for something good.

    Thank you for reminding people of things they should be aware of.

  16. This really good ideas I think its so important to have a safety tats.

  17. Amy Desrosiers

    This past week’s incident is a reminder that children can escape from parent’s in an eye’s wink. My almost 4 year old surprises me daily with what he does.

  18. Great post Joyce. The note about private establishements having there own emergency numbers. I was not aware of that until I went to work on a military base. We are to call 3333 from a work phone in an emergency.

  19. Regardless of this incident, all of this information is very important especially coming into summer. There are suggestions you’ve shared that most would not think of. On the zoo incident it’s all so disturbing in so many ways. After seeing a drawing of the habitat I cannot imagine how a small child could scale a barrier, run through a 4 foot vegetation area and fall into a 15 foot deep moat. I always kept my kids right next to me and never took my eyes off of them.

  20. I dont think the parents are negligent at all. Parents accidently lose their kids all the time come on how many mall/grocery store loss happen all the time? I fault the zoo completely the fence was only 3ft for him to fall over lack of security. That petition is horrible children get lost but there should be all types of safety precaution mandated in the landscape of the zoo so this could of prevented anyone from getting hurt including poor Harmabe.

    • Can’t say I agree that the parents weren’t negligent AT ALL. The boy repeatedly said he wanted to swim with the gorillas and the mother didn’t become more vigilant after that.

  21. We are at theme parks pretty often. I need to add taking the kids’ picture on my phone when we arrive. Such a great trip!

  22. I think it was too easy to jump to judge the parents. I know my kids were so quick when they were that age. I had a hard time keeping up with them.

  23. These are amazing tips! This was certainly a scary thing to hear about with the child and a very sad day for a hard choice to be made. I have never been in a panic situation like this but having a plan in action when you do go to a public place like this is very important.

  24. Oh my goodness, teaching them your real name is a splendid idea to include on this list. It’s an aspect many don’t think about!

  25. I am afraid to bring my son to the zoo. Every time we go out, I never take my eyes off him.