18 Tigers, 17 Lions, 8 Bears, 3 Cougars,
2 Wolves, 1 Baboon, 1 Macaque,
and 1 Man Dead in Ohio

Your longread of the day / week / month / year? GQ’s Chris Heath brings you the astonishing true story of the Zanesville zoo massacre—which began when a depressed, desperate man named Terry Thompson turned loose his 56 exotic animals in rural Ohio, touching off a mass slaughter that was covered around the world. Below, just a very brief portion of the story from its opening section. The full piece is here. Read it. We solemnly swear you will not be disappointed.

Inside the barn Sam Kopchak locked the doors, then telephoned his mother, sitting in front of the TV about a hundred yards away back in the house. There was, he told her, “a major problem.” They’d long known that there were strange and unusual animals kept out of sight over the brow of the hill around Thompson’s house—often they could hear lions bellow and roar. “We didn’t have any idea how many there were,” Mrs. Kopchak would later reflect. But they assumed that these two runaways must have come from there, so the first thing Mrs. Kopchak did was to dial her neighbor’s number.

No answer.

Only then did she call 911 and alert the world. She sounded calm when she reported what her son had seen, as though there was really nothing too strange or alarming about a lion and a bear running loose on an October afternoon in Ohio. But maybe she was a little rattled. When the 911 operator asked for her first name, Mrs. Kopchak answered “Dolores,” the name on her birth certificate but one she never uses: “I’ve been called Dolly for eighty-four years.”

Her son remained trapped in the barn. From there, looking through a north-facing window, he watched the menagerie grow. Along came a wolf. And a second bear, this one much larger than the first. And there was the lion he had seen before, now pacing back and forth. And also a lioness, anxiously scuttering around. “And then,” he says, “I saw a tiger. I’m telling you, the lion is bad enough, and the lioness is bad enough, and the wolf is bad, and the bear, but…don’t be around the tiger. The tigers are actually bigger than the lions if they’re fully grown. He started snarling, and went after the horses.”

[Photographs byTim Flach]