18-month-old Chloe Wiegand fell through a Royal Caribbean cruise ship’s 11th floor window when she slipped from her grandfather’s hands.
Puerto Rican authorities said that they have not ruled out charging family members in the death.
The family were onboard the Freedom of the Seas cruise liner while it was docked in San Juan when the girl plunged through a large, open window and onto the concrete dock below while she was spending time with her grandfather, Sam Anello.
Chloe had travelled to San Juan from Granger, Indiana with her parents, siblings and four grandparents for a Caribbean vacation.
Alan Wiegand, her father is an officer with the South Bend Police Department which expressed its condolences in a statement on Monday.
The family’s horrified screams could be heard as the toddler fell, said witnesses.
Puerto Rican officials have given varying accounts of what led to Chloe’s sudden fall.
Authorities said in their initial statement that she accidentally slipped from Anello’s arms, falling off the deck as the ship prepared to leave.
On Tuesday, authorities said they were working to determine if charges would be brought against the family over the toddler’s death.
“Prosecutors interviewed the family today and they will now determine if there will be charges,” Kiara Hernandez, a spokesperson with the Department of Public Safety, said.
The Puerto Rico Police and San Juan attorney general’s office are handling the investigation into the girl’s death.
Elmer L. Román González, secretary of the Department of Public Safety said the Department of Justice will “continue working on the investigation of this case with the required rigour.”
José Carmona, Port Authority spokesman said that Chloe and Anello were playing in a dining hall on the 11th floor deck when her grandfather picked her up, held her at the window, and then lost his balance.
Chloe’s family are pushing back on the narrative that Anello was irresponsibly “dangling” the little girl and are blaming Royal Caribbean for leaving a large window open in the children’s area of the ship.
Michael Winkleman, the Wiegand’s attorney said that Anello put her on the railing to bang on the window glass because she loved doing that at her brother’s hockey game in Indiana.
This is not “like the Michael Jackson story, where he was dangling the child out the window,” he said.
The two were in “the water park area on the ship, which is designed for the kids,” when Anello lifted Chloe up onto the wooden railing so she could see out, Winkleman said.
“He thinks that there is glass there because it’s clear, but it turns out there was no glass there,” he said. “She goes to bang on the glass like she would have at one of those hockey rinks, and the next thing you know, she’s gone.”
The toddler enjoyed standing by glass and windows so she could see what was going on, according to her family’s attorney who said the girl’s grandfather is still in disbelief and recounted the moment “through tears.”
“He literally thought there was glass there,” Winkleman said, emphasising that “there was absolutely no alcohol involved, Sam is not a drinker.”
Winkleman blamed the ship’s staff for not properly securing the large “wall of windows”, leaving it vulnerable to passengers opening them on their accord, calling the girl’s death a “preventable tragedy.”
On Monday, Royal Caribbean said in a statement that it is cooperating with the investigation and have made their “Care Team available to assist the family with any resources they need.”
“We are deeply saddened by yesterday’s tragic incident, and our hearts go out to the family,” the company said.
“Out of respect for their privacy, we do not plan to comment further on the incident. No further details were released. The investigation is ongoing.”
Owen Torres, a Royal Caribbean spokesperson, said that the company is “assisting local authorities in San Juan, PR, as they make inquiries” and don’t have any additional information to share at this time.
Chloe’s family has been in Puerto Rico since the accident, waiting until they can take her body home, their attorney said.
The Bureau of Forensic Sciences said that it completed an autopsy at 10:39 a.m. Tuesday and “the body was delivered to the funeral home chosen by the family.” -/TISG