Family of toddler who fell from cruise ship 'utterly crushed' after grandfather charged

Chloe Wiegand fell to her death off the 11th story of the ship after her grandfather placed her near an open window during the family's Royal Caribbean trip in July.

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/ Source: NBC News
By Doha Madani

Parents of the 18-month-old girl who fell to her death from a cruise ship window in Puerto Rico are standing by the girl's grandfather after he was charged with negligent homicide.

Salvatore Anello is facing three years in prison for the death of Chloe Wiegand after Puerto Rico’s Justice Department ordered his arrest Monday. Anello, called "Sam" by his family, is married to Chloe’s maternal grandmother.

Michael Winkleman, an attorney for Chloe's parents, said the family was "fractured" after Anello's arrest. The charge was "like pouring salt on an open wound" for Alan and Kimberly Wiegand, Winkleman told NBC News.

"The family is crushed. Utterly crushed," Winkleman said. "I think they were doing their best to really start the process of grieving for the months since the incident, since the tragedy happened and I think they were really doing their best to keep it together for their 11-year-old son."

While the vessel was docked in San Juan on July 7, Anello placed Chloe near an open window he thought was closed when she fell out of the Royal Caribbean cruise ship's 11th story window. The grandfather often held Chloe up to the glass at her older brother's hockey game so she could bang on the glass, according to the family.

Puerto Rican authorities allege that Anello negligently exposed his granddaughter to the window, causing her to fall from a height of 115 feet to her death.

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Winkleman said to NBC News Tuesday that the family has no reason to doubt Anello's story and would like to see surveillance footage from the incident.

"We know what Sam's version of the events were, and I have no reason to doubt what he said," Winkleman said. "Having said that, a picture is worth a thousand words and a video is worth 10,000 words."

Chloe's parents, Alan and Kimberly Wiegand, told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie in July they didn't understand why there would be an open window so high up on the ship and that the cruise line created "a tremendous safety hazard that cost our child her life."

Kimberly Wiegand insisted that the grandfather has never put her children in danger.

"He was extremely hysterical,'' she told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie in July. "The thing that he has repeatedly told us is, 'I believed that there was glass.' He will cry over and over and over."

She said that Anello was extremely distraught over the accident.

"You can barely look at him without him crying," Kimberly Wiegand. "She was his best friend."

Chloe Wiegand.

Winkleman reiterated the concerns against Royal Caribbean's safety standards, saying the family stood behind Anello "100 percent."

"I think the critical problem there was that there are strict safety regulations that are in place that are literally designed to protect against exactly that incident, which is a toddler falling through an open glass window," the lawyer said. "Those are primarily, you could have a screen, you could have some type of grid. Or more importantly, windows in that type of a situation aren't even supposed to open more than 4 inches."

Royal Caribbean said in a statement Tuesday that Chloe's death was a "tragic incident" and referred questions to the authorities "out of respect for the family’s privacy."

Anello was released after posting an $80,000 bond and is next scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 20.