The three suspects responsible for a fire at a German zoo which killed dozens of animals are a mother, 60, and her two adult daughters, Krefeld police have confirmed.
The three women from Krefeld in western Germany lit five paper Chinese lanterns and launched them into the sky on New Year's Eve, despite a ban on the objects in the area, which they had ordered online without a permit. They handed themselves into police after learning of the fire on the news.
The suspects are 'regretful' over the incident and have appeared remorseful over the consequences of their actions, police said in a press conference on Thursday afternoon.
Four of the five lanterns have been recovered by authorities.
Analysts were studying the handwriting on the lanterns and inspecting the burned-out animal enclosure at Krefeld Zoo, as well as analysing wind and weather patterns to identify those responsible.
According to police, the suspects could either face up to five year's jail time or be hit with a fine.
Burned-out remains: Twisted metal inside the monkey enclosure at Krefeld zoo which was destroyed in a fire which killed dozens of animals including five orangutans and a 48-year-old silverback gorilla
Wreckage: The destroyed roof of the monkey enclosure is seen on Wednesday following the blaze at Krefeld zoo which broke out within the first hour of January 1
Destroyed: The wreckage of the monkey enclosure where dozens of animals were burned alive. Krefeld zoo said many employees were 'in shock' in the wake of the 'terrible tragedy'
Centre of the fire: The enclosure where a blaze raced through a zoo in western Germany in the first few minutes of the new year, killing more than 30 animals, including apes, monkeys, bats and birds
Dozens of animals including apes, monkeys, bats and birds were burnt alive after an inferno swept through the monkey enclosure at a German zoo in the first minutes of 2020
Shattered: A view through a broken window into the burned-out monkey enclosure. The enclosure housed gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and marmosets. Only two chimpanzees survived, as well as a family of gorillas in a nearby building
Debris: The charred remains of the monkey enclosure on Wednesday, as investigators spoke to a number of people who may have used the Chinese lanterns feared to have caused the blaze
The zoo posted this picture of orangutans inside the monkey house just hours before the blaze
Firefighters work at the burning monkey house of the zoo in Krefeld, western Germany, on early January 1
Authorities are investigating on a single charge of 'negligently criminal fire', which carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in jail.
Police admitted that the incident was an 'exceptional' one.
Officer Gerd Hoppmann added that it was 'courageous' of the women to hand themselves into police after learning of the fire.
'That is courageous. To hand themselves into the police like that. It is a decent thing to do and earns my respect.'
According to investigators, the fire was ignited in the north-eastern corner of the cage and the animals were either burnt to death or killed by inhaling toxic smoke. The ape house had been fitted with plexiglass - a transparent plastic material - a few years ago after a hailstorm.
Foliage may also have played a role in spreading the fire, police said.
Five orangutans, a 48-year-old silverback gorilla and dozens of monkeys as well as fruit bats and birds were among the creatures killed in the fire which broke out within the first hour of January 1.
Photos taken on Wednesday show debris and twisted metal inside the ape house, where only two chimpanzees were rescued alive.
Yesterday tearful visitors lit candles and left flowers and soft toys at the entrance of the zoo on Wednesday. One of the tributes asked simply: 'Why?'
'Our worst fears have been realised,' Krefeld zoo, which specialises in primates, announced on its Facebook page.
The zoo near the Dutch border said that the entire ape house burned down and more than 30 animals, including five orangutans, a 48-year-old silverback gorilla called Massa, a chimpanzee and several monkeys, as well as fruit bats and birds, were killed.
Only two chimpanzees could be rescued from the flames by firefighters. They suffered burns but are in stable condition, zoo director Wolfgang Dressen said.
'It's close to a miracle that Bally, a 40-year-old female chimpanzee, and Limbo, a