Denver Zoo shuts down after receiving a security threat

Denver Police outside the Denver Zoo after it was shut down due to a credible threat Oct. 2, 2018. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

Denver Police outside the Denver Zoo after it was shut down due to a credible threat Oct. 2, 2018. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

The Denver Zoo shut down and evacuated its guests Tuesday afternoon after it received a call from someone threatening to crash a plane into the zoo.

The zoo initially tweeted that it was a “credible security threat,” but police later determined that it was not. They’re investigating to find the person who made the call and said they don’t have a suspect at this time.

Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson said Tuesday the call came in to the zoo at about 3:19 p.m. He said Denver police responded to the call to support the zoo’s protocol. The police were immediately notified after the zoo received the call.

“The person who made the call is our suspect,” Jackson said. “We’re looking for whoever made the call. To call in a threat is a crime. You call in a threat, that’s a criminal act.”

Jackson wouldn’t detail the number of police officers or additional resources deployed on Tuesday. He said the “appropriate” amount of officers were sent to the scene. He added that police were in contact with several area airports following the threat.

“Obviously, we think the zoo did the right thing, took the necessary precautions, and we support that,” Jackson said. “But we always have to take time on our end to determine if it’s credible or if it’s not.”

Denver Zoo President and CEO Bert Vescolani said about 1,000 people were evacuated on following the threat, which came in the late afternoon. Vescolani said the zoo made the call to evacuate.

“We have three priorities that are really important to us,” Vescolani said. “Our animals, our staff and our guests. And whenever we get a call, there’s a situation that our staff feels the least bit uncomfortable with, we immediately look at our protocol and procedures and go through that process. And that’s what we did.”

Vescolani said it wasn’t a particularly busy day, and that the zoo is planning on reopening normally on Wednesday. He said he was proud of the zoo staff’s actions on Tuesday.

“I think it went very well from our team’s perspective,” Vescolani said. “I always hate to discomfort guests in any way … but we want to invite them back, have another experience and say it’s a good place, it’s a safe place, we’ve got a crazy strong record and we want to keep doing that.”

Mary and Jon Breuer were visiting the zoo from Greeley with their 4-year-old daughter, Brooklynn. The family was at the penguin habitat when the staffer cut the public feeding short and told guests to evacuate around 3:50 p.m.

Guests were told there was a possible threat, the Breuers said, and asked them to head out to Colorado Boulevard.

“You didn’t panic anybody. You made sure everybody knew what was going on,” Jon Breuer told the staff.

Denver Zoo staff at the scene told Denverite everyone is okay but had no further comment.

A little after 4:30 p.m., guests were allowed to go to their cars.

This story will be updated.