A dangerous situation continues to play out in Muskingum County and now possibly Licking County.
Sheriff Matt Lutz says Tuesday afternoon some dangerous animals were purposely let out of their secured fences and are now roaming free.
Zanesville, Maysville, Foxfire, Starlight and West Muskingum Schools are closed Wednesday due to the situation.
It all started at 270 Kopchak Road on the farm of Terry Thompson.
"Deputies arrived on the scene and found animals outside the fencedarea, and we did have to shoot them," says Sheriff Matt Lutz.
Lutz says he received a call around 5:30 p.m. that 48 wild animals including lions, bears, tigers and wolves were freed from a rescueshelter. The home belongs to 61-year-old Terry Thompson, who has afelony histoy and was recently released from prison.
"We have found Mr. Thompson at the house, and we have confirmed thathe is deceased at this point. He was found outside," says Lutz.
Lutz says Thompson’s cause of death is not being released at this time.
In the meantime, deputies are armed with assault rifles and they aretaking down animals as they find them. The Ohio Department of NaturalResources and the State Highway Patrol are assisting the Sheriff’sOffice.
"They have a helicopter that was able to get up with the weather.They’re coming in with a heat-seeking camera to see if we can findanything loose," says Lutz.
The Wilds has also been called to bring tranquilizers to the area.Lutz says this isn’t the first time Thompsons’ animals have gottenout-of-control, but he did own them legally.
"We’ve dealt with this for a long time, and to our knowledge, it’s notagainst the law for a felon to have the rescue license and permits forthese animals," he says.
No people have been injured so far and hunters have been notified to leave.
"Hopefully, once we get the house and crime scene secured, we canstart taking a body count on what we were able to kill around thehouse and in the area, and we’ll have an idea of what we have left outthere," he says.
Authorities will work throughout the night. So far at least 25 animalshave been killed.
Residents should take caution and keep the area around their home welllit.
The Licking County Sheriff’s Office has received at least 4 calls of possible sightings of the exotic animals in extreme southeastern Licking County. The Sheriff’s Office says they will activate its SWAT team who will be equipped with night vision equipment to help deal with potential encounters. Any residents in either Muskingum or Licking County who believe they have spotted an animal is asked to call 911.