Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn dazzled audiences for years with their elaborate Las Vegas shows, but the performances came to a halt when one of their famous white tigers attacked Horn during a 2003 routine.
A trainer who helped save Horn’s life that night is now speaking out, contradicting what the famous duo has insisted for years and suggesting the pair covered up the real reason behind the mauling.
Chris Lawrence had worked his way up behind the scenes, from cleaning cages to ultimately handling the prized Bengal tigers. In an interview with NBC, and as first reported by The Hollywood Reporter, Lawrence suggested that Horn is to blame for the assault that ended the career he shared with his partner, Fischbacher.
For years, the duo insisted that Horn had suffered a stroke during a performance on Oct. 3, 2003, and that Mantacore, a 400-pound, 7-foot-long striped white male tiger, had realized the performer was in distress and tried to protect him.
But Lawrence suggested that Roy had made a critical mistake during the show and agitated Mantacore during the process.
“The point I realized that things were kind of going sideways was when Roy turned Mantacore around, and he ended up with his face in Roy's midsection,” he told NBC’s Joe Fryer.
Lawrence, who was just a few feet away offstage, said he could see the tiger become confused and irritated before the animal knocked Horn to the ground. Lawrence said he tried to pull Mantacore back, but the tiger threw him off his feet.
“I remember vividly thinking, ‘Here he comes.’ There's no telling me it wasn't coming for me,” he said.
Instead, Mantacore bit Roy in the neck and began dragging him offstage.
“At that point, Roy was silent. His eyes were closed. He was just still,” Lawrence recalled.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture investigated the incident for two years but was unable to determine a cause for the attack. The USDA also failed to find evidence supporting claims that Horn suffered a stroke before the attack and that the tiger was trying to protect him. Instead, the department noted that one witness said, “It appeared that his only intention was to kill Roy.”
As he told The Hollywood Reporter, Lawrence said Roy made several errors before the attack, such as neglecting his animal handling duties beforehand.
“I think Roy became uncomfortable. I think his actions in trying to save the routine and rectify the situation actually ended up complicating it,” he told NBC.
Fischbacher and Horn, who underwent numerous surgeries and was left partially paralyzed by the attack, did not return NBC’s request for comment.
Lawrence said the evening left him with severe PTSD, which he continues to cope with and handle along with his family.
“Something in him also died that night. There’s a piece of him that's no longer available,” his wife, Alicia Lawrence, said.
Lawrence said he holds no hard feelings toward his former employers, for whom he worked 11 years. He said he decided to speak out now to raise awareness about PTSD and how difficult it is to find appropriate treatment.
“Very unfortunately, Roy bears the physical wounds from the attack, but Roy's not the only one that suffers from that night,” he said.