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Grandfather in toddler's cruise ship death breaks silence: 'It seems like it's not real'

Sam Anello says he was in "disbelief" when his granddaughter fell to her death on a cruise ship from a window he thought was closed. "I just thought there was glass there. I don't know what else to tell you."
/ Source: TODAY

A grandfather charged with negligent homicide after his granddaughter's death on a cruise ship last summer says he was in "disbelief" when she fell 11 stories through an window he thought was covered with glass.

"It seems like it's all not real,'' Salvatore "Sam" Anello told CBS News. "She's such a beautiful little girl. Perfect little girl."

Anello, 51, was arrested and charged last month in the death of his 18-month-old granddaughter, Chloe Wiegand.

She fell out of an 11th-story window on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on July 7 after Anello placed her near an open window he thought was closed. He could face up to three years in prison if convicted.

"I remember trying to find her on the floor and then I saw her fall, I saw her fall, I saw her fall and I was just in disbelief,'' he told CBS News. "And I was like 'Oh my God.' And I think for a while I was in shock and I was just standing there."

Anello had picked up the toddler and placed her on a railing against what he thought was a closed window near the ship's outdoor play area.

"And then I just remember screaming that I thought there was glass,'' he said. "I thought there was glass. I still say it to myself, it's just, I kind of relive it all the time and I just thought there was glass there. I don't know what else to tell you."

Anello's attorneys say that her death was a horrible accident, but not a crime. Puerto Rican authorities allege that Anello negligently exposed his granddaughter to the window, causing her to fall 115 feet.

Security video of the incident from the ship remains unreleased but is believed to have compelled the charges. Royal Caribbean issued a statement after Anello was charged.

"This was a tragic incident, and out of respect for the family's privacy, we refer you to authorities for further comment,'' the company said.

Chloe's parents, Kimberly and Alan Wiegand, defended Anello in an interview with Savannah Guthrie on TODAY in July.

"He was extremely hysterical,'' Kimberly said. "The thing that he has repeatedly told us is, 'I believed that there was glass.' He will cry over and over and over. At no point ever, ever has Sam ever put our kids in danger.

"(He's) very, very distraught. You can barely look at him without him crying. She was his best friend."

The family's attorney, Michael Winkleman, says they plan to sue the cruise line in civil court.

"The question is, 'Did Royal Caribbean use reasonable care in keeping that family safe?" he told TODAY.

A distraught Anello feels losing his granddaughter is worse than any criminal conviction.

"They can't do anything worse to me than has already happened,'' he told NBC News' Kerry Sanders last week.