The San Jose teenager savagely killed by a Siberian tiger Christmas evening became a target after he chose to distract the beast from its first victim, a friend who survived the mauling, according to a police timeline of Tuesday’s events.
The 350-pound tiger, Tatiana, lunged at Carlos Sousa Jr., 17, after he yelled to get the tiger’s attention. The first victim then fled with his brother, who had also screamed at the tiger, toward the Terrace Café, leaving a blood trail the tiger would later follow. The two brothers have been identified as Paul Dhaliwal, 19, and Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23, who along with Sousa, are from San Jose.
During a news conference Thursday, police Chief Heather Fong would not say how the tiger escaped her enclosure, but did describe a rough outline of what happened the night of the attack.
In the span of at least 19 minutes, with zoo staff and at least 20 visitors still in the park, Tatiana mauled one of the brothers, then killed Sousa Jr. before heading off to stalk her remaining prey. The three friends had eaten at the cafe earlier, and the two remaining victims felt it would be a safe place.
But Tatiana followed the duo. Two plainclothesmen arrived in time to see the third victim sitting in front of the cafe with blood coming from his face. He was saying, “Help me, help me,” Fong said.
When the tiger turned toward the officers, they fired, with at least three bullets connecting.
Fong said that although investigators found a shoeprint on the railing in front of the compound, they had no information that would confirm reports that one of the victims had hung his leg over a wall allowing the tiger to escape its enclosure. She also denied reports that a shoe had been found at the bottom of the moat beyond the fence.
“Two victims had their shoes on, and one victim — the victim who was attacked at the Terrace Café had one of his shoes off — but it was alongside his person at the Terrace Café,” Fong said.
Zoo Director Manuel Mollinedo said he personally inspected the back part of the enclosure, along with other experts, and determined that Tatiana “must have escaped from some location in the front part of her exhibit.” He said he could not tell where in front of the enclosure the tiger escaped, but he did say there was no overgrown brush or foliage.
As for Sousa Jr.’s attempt to save his friends, one family member said it doesn’t surprise her.
“That’s the kind of person he was,” cousin Patricia Fagundes said. “He wouldn’t run if he knew his friend was in danger. He had a big heart and, unfortunately, that’s what got him killed.”