The grieving family of the toddler who fell to her death off a cruise ship in Puerto Rico is opening up about how the tragedy unfolded.
Little Chloe Wiegand, who was 18 months old, died Sunday when she fell 150 feet from the Royal Caribbean ship Freedom of the Seas to the dock below. “Sadly, she died on impact,” a local Port Authority spokesperson told CNN.
Witnesses said the mother’s anguished cry did “not compare to any other scream.”
One detail in contention? The family says the girl’s grandfather Salvatore Anello, aka Sam, didn’t drop her, as local officials have suggested. Instead, their attorney told Inside Edition that Chloe approached a wall of windows in a kids’ play area known as the H2O Zone, wanting to bang on the glass, something she did often, and fell through the opening.
“Chloe comes over there and wants to look out the windows and [Anello] lifts her up to a railing at the mid-section of these windows and he doesn’t know that this one window is open,” said lawyer Michael Winkleman, of the Miami-based law firm Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman. “… He lets go of her for a second and she’s gone.”
Winkleman noted that the Freedom of the Seas is an older ship on which passengers “can just slide open these windows so there’s sort of an optical illusion.”
“It was reasonable for [Anello] to believe there was glass there,” Winkleman said, adding that the incident was preventable. “Why would you think that in a kids’ play area … there’s going to be this hidden danger?”
He continued: “There was nothing there that warned him or gave him a head’s up that there was this tremendous danger.”
Now the family is trying to move on. “For Sam, he’s going to have to live with that memory for the rest of his life,” said Winkleman. He’s “inconsolable,” he added.
Asked how the rest of the family is coping, Winkleman replied, “Terrible, everyone’s doing terrible, they’re all in pieces.”
But, he said, they do want the world to know “how loving” Chloe was, “how warm she was … she made everyone’s life better.”
Winkleman added that there is video of the incident, which he said he hopes to view as soon as possible.
People who know Anello back home say he’s “beloved.”
Mike Hamann, who works with Anello, called him a “wonderful employee.”
“He is beloved by all. We are crushed by this tragedy, and we all are mourning for him and his family,” Hamann told WSBT.
The girl is the daughter of Indiana police officer Alan Wiegand and his wife, Kimberly.
“The South Bend Police Department offers its sincerest condolences to officer Alan Wiegand and his family during this difficult time following the tragic loss of their child while in Puerto Rico. The department asks the community to pray for the entire Wiegand family as they grieve,” the police department said in a statement.
Police Sgt. Nelson Sotelo told The Associated Press that the family is “in shock.”
Owen Torres, corporate communications manager for Royal Caribbean, told CBS News that the cruise operator was “deeply saddened by [the] tragic incident, and our hearts go out to the family.”
Torres added that the company had made its “Care Team available to assist the family with any resources they need.”
When asked about the family claims of negligence, the cruise line would only say that it is assisting local authorities and has no further information to share.