Father of the teenager mauled by a zoo tiger on Christmas Day speaks out

by Kristen Dahlgren
NBC News

We are learning more about the high school junior who was mauled to death by a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas Day.

His family is talking about their pain while authorities are still trying to figure out how the tiger escaped.

For the family of 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Junior, the first images of the tiger attack brought panic.

His father, Carlos Sousa Sr., says, "when I seen that body bag I said I hope to God that's not my son. It's such a big world and my son has been pegged for death by a tiger."

Mauled to death by 350 pound Tatiana.

His body was found just outside her enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo.

Responding officers also found two male survivors about 300 yards away, the tiger still attacking one of them.

Sgt. Neville Gittens of the San Francisco Police Department says, "the tiger made its move towards the officers and thats when they shot it."

The survivors had deep bites and claw marks and are recovering from surgery.

Dr. Rochelle Dicker of San Francisco General Hospital says, "now what we are looking for is to make sure these men don't develop infections."

Sousa's father thinks they were his son's friends, and that all three went to the zoo together on Christmas Day.

What they don't know is how the tiger escaped.

The exhibit is surrounded by a 20 foot wide moat and an 18 foot wall.

Chief Heather Fong of the San Francisco Police Department says, "that's the purpose of the criminal investigation to see if there is human involvement, or if the tiger got out on its own."

And so as the death of Carlos Sousa, Junior leaves his family with unopened Christmas presents, it also leaves many unanswered questions as the investigation continues and zoos around the country now look at their own safety.

This was not Tatiana's first attack.  Last December, she mauled a zookeeper and the San Francisco Zoo was fined for a serious violation of safety standards.  The zoo reportedly spent more than $200,000 to improve the safety of the tiger exhibit.  That exhibit remains closed indefinitely, though the zoo reopened Thursday morning.