The man circled and circled and circled. Bobbing and jogging. In an instant, instinct took over. The tiger watched his prey, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. Like his cousins in the wild, his pounce would be powerful and deadly. In a matter of moments, the Circus Suarez tiger trainer was dead.
The Ringling performer twirled and twirled, hanging from the ceiling in a long chiffon scarf. Her act was mesmerizing and then, suddenly, the silky cloth snapped and she plunged to the concrete floor below. Death from the fall was a shock to terrified guests.
It was "Children's Day" at Circus Vazquez. Hundreds of children's eyes were locked on the veteran trapeze artist as he dangled from a rope above their heads. The next instant, he lost his grip and plummeted headfirst to the floor below. That day, they all became witnesses to his death.
Few will forget the first hand accounts of Roy Horn's tiger attacking him during a live performance at The Mirage hotel. Discovery Channel recreated the attack in this video. Though Horn didn't die, it was the death knell for his iconic show.
For years, animal advocates have been complaining about the deaths of circus animals. Unlike the human performer deaths, these are the deaths circus guests rarely see. Ringling Bros.' lion died from heat and lack of water in a train car traveling through the desert and their elephant drowned in a Texas pond. Ringling Bros. agreed to a record $270,000 fine in 2011 for alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
Circus Vasquez is no stranger to animal deaths, either. One of its tigers was attacked, nearly decapitated, and killed by one or more of her cage mates after the circus left six tigers crammed together in one cage. This capped off a long list of the circus' animal welfare violations.
Though many circus animals have lost their lives, it's the human deaths that draw international attention. When children witness death defying acts gone bad, that's what seems to concern parents the most.
A Minnesota parent whose children were eyewitnesses to the Ringling performer's death lamented, "They were really distraught, especially because the ringmaster started up again like nothing had happened." The clowns that rushed in to divert attention couldn't erase the memories of what the children saw that day.
Ringling Bros. continued having accidents in New York's Madison Square Garden. One man fell 30 feet from a trapeze into a net. Another slipped off a high wire. Both had minor injuries. Signs outside the venue promoted the circus to families with the slogan, "Tempting fate daily" and the circus guests kept coming.
When the Vazquez Circus trapeze artist fell to his death in front of 500 children, the band reportedly began playing to try and divert attention away from the accident, but it was too late. The parent of a 9-year-old daughter shared, "She was terrified. It was horrible. I cried after that."
"The show must go on," said Ringling circus spokeswoman Alexis Copeland after the deadly accident occurred in Minnesota. But, after this latest mauling death of a tiger trainer and a video of it that's gone viral, maybe Ringling's cliche is one many parents will begin to question.