WASHINGTON, D.C. – While millions of Americans were watching the Broncos crush the Panthers on Sunday night, Bei Bei, the youngest member of a family of giant pandas residing at the National Zoo in downtown Washington, D.C., was abducted by heavily armed poachers who rappelled into the habitat under the cover of darkness.
D.C. Metropolitan police say the suspects -who were clad in black and wearing night vision goggles, flew into the National Zoo’s complex in Woodley Park aboard two “military style” helicopters before dropping into the pandas’ habitat. “The suspects were in and out in a matter of seconds,” D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier said during a press conference Monday morning. “These were not your average run-of-the-mill criminals.”
Prior to the abduction, Zoo officials say they were never alerted to any direct threats to Bei Bei or any other members of the beloved giant panda family. “There’s no rhyme or reason as to why this happened,” said a tearful Stacy Andrews, a veterinarian who works in the panda habitat. Ms. Andrews said she can’t imagine why anyone would want to hurt baby Bei Bei.
Police say they’ve recovered a number of items including several tranquilizer darts and spent shell casings from the paddock. “We’re currently running tests on the evidence collected by investigators, “Chief Lanier told reporters. However, at this point authorities have yet to indicate whether or not they have any solid leads on the identities or whereabouts of the suspects.
“At this stage it’s unlikely they have anything,” former FBI special agent Miguel Rodriguez told Fox News Monday morning. “Or if they do have something, they aren’t making it public just yet.” The former special agent said that in the event a ransom is involved, kidnappers typically issue their demands within forty-eight hours of the abduction. “So we still have a bit of time to see how that plays out,” Rodriguez said.
In the meantime, investigators are asking anyone with information of the whereabouts of Bei Bei to contact D.C. Metropolitan police.
Update 9:03 a.m.
D.C. Metropolitan police say they are looking into the possibility that a leftist militant group known as the Panda Liberation Front (PLF) may have carried out Sunday’s bold abduction. While little is known about the organizational structure of the PLF, its ranks are said to include a number of highly trained militarized pandas.
The U.S. Department of State lists the group -which is believed to have ties to the Chinese government, as a foreign terrorist organization.