Going Ape

Suzy the Chimp is dead, her teenage killer faces charges and there's bad blood all around

"He come back out with a shotgun, trying to get a shot at them," says Lahmann. "I didn't actually ever think he would shoot. 'He's just goofin' off' was what I kind of thought at the time, because the owner's there and we're there ..."

"It was a bad situation, and they just made it worse," adds Gambill. "The whole time, we was beggin' 'em, 'Please go inside and let us handle it,' and Connie's crying, saying, 'Don't shoot our chimps.'"

At some point, Coats' three friends joined him in the house and then went out on the porch to see whether he was really going to "shoot the goddamn monkeys," as he promised. Connie Casey was trying valiantly to gain control of the situation. Her efforts weren't working too well. The chimps were scampering here and there. At times, they were running out onto the highway. They didn't want to be shot with ketamine hydrochloride from the dart guns the humans were carrying. Connie had already darted Suzy back at the compound, just before she took off. Then Lahmann got her a second time. Suzy ran to the front of the yard and sat there at the crest of a roadside ditch, in the shade of a bush.

Jason Coats: "We were, like, 'Wow! There's monkeys in the driveway!"
Jennifer Silverberg
Jason Coats: "We were, like, 'Wow! There's monkeys in the driveway!"

"So we all moved toward the front of the house," says Lahmann, "and then Coats came off the porch with his gun there, into his yard there, and his buddies are on the porch, egging him on: 'Shoot the blankety-blank monkey!' And we're in between him and the chimp. He kept waving that gun around, trying to outmaneuver us."

When Casey saw Coats leveling his sights at Suzy, she says, she pleaded with him: "I begged him not to shoot. 'Please don't pull the trigger,' I said."

Jason pulled the trigger three times. The first round was birdshot. It hit the 28-year-old, 115-pound Suzy in the back, causing her to lunge forward, toward the drainage ditch. "It let out a monkey screech," recalls Coats. The second and third rounds were slugs, each a single ball of lead. The second shot hit her on the left side, spinning her around. He then chambered the third round. That one, fired when Suzy was lying on the ground, hit her in the face and took her lower jaw.

"It was hurt," offers Coats. "That's why I fired the other rounds. It's never right for an animal to suffer. I asked Connie Casey -- did she want me to take that animal out of its misery?"

Casey says Coats said nothing of the kind. Instead, she says, he aimed the shotgun at her and told her to get the hell out of the way. "I never pointed the gun at her," insists Coats, "and the safety was on until the moment I pulled the trigger."

J.C. Wills showed up: "I heard the shots, and I said, 'Holy shit!' Then I went over there and asked him what in the hell he's doing. He says, 'Oh, I had to protect my buddies. I had to get them in the house.' I said, 'Hell, you was already in the house. You was all upstairs looking out the window.' He didn't have to shoot that chimp, you know? He was just kind of showing off."

Meanwhile, says Casey, when she tried to move the stricken Suzy to the rear of the pickup, Coats ordered her to leave the chimp there. "I did tell her not to touch it," he affirms. "My dad told me, 'If you shoot something and it dies on your property, that's your evidence.' Then, when police come, they know where it happened and maybe what happened."

But Casey defied Coats' command. Gabby and Coco went to Suzy's side. They were panting on her and licking her, trying to comfort her. The workmen tried to get Suzy into the truck and to shield Coco and Gabby from Coats and his gun. "After shooting the first chimp," says Gambill, "he threatened to kill the rest: 'I'm gonna shoot 'em all,' he's yelling. 'Get out of my way so I can shoot.' We continued to stay between him and the chimps. And at one point he was on the roof with that gun, trying to get a better angle."

Suzy didn't die for another two hours, not until Tom "Butch" Jones, a veterinarian, arrived from his clinic in Crystal City and decided to euthanize her. She had had a baby just three weeks earlier.


The locals call them monkeys, but in fact they are apes -- tail-less primates that include chimps, gorillas and orangutans. The chimpanzee or, as Linneas might say, Pan trogolodytes, hails from the thick rainforests and woodlands of equatorial Africa. They are a sociable species, living in family units, and are considered the closest living relatives of human beings. And they act like humans: A baby chimp laughs when it is tickled. After chimps fight, they kiss and make up. Chimpanzees also are the only animals that make tools, and, like humans, they have the capacity to solve problems and to plan ahead. They are one of the few animals able to recognize themselves in a mirror. Chimps subsist on vegetation, fruit and insects, but sometimes they form hunting parties and prey on other animals for food. An adult male chimpanzee stands 3 to 4 feet tall and weighs up to 140 pounds but is stronger than a muscular 6-foot man.

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