Intern in Lion Attack Died of Broken Neck

Dianna Hanson, the intern killed by a lion inside an enclosure at a big-cat sanctuary in California, died of a broken neck, a Fresno County coroner said Thursday, although it's still unclear why the lion attacked her.

Fresno County coroner David Hadden told ABC News that he believes a gate or door was left partially open when the 4-year-old male African lion named Cous Cous attacked Hanson Wednesday afternoon.

"The cat had just been fed and there was food in the bowl and the cat had ignored the food in order to have access to this young lady," Hadden said Thursday night.

Fresno County Sheriff's Lt. Patrick Hanson told ABCNews.com Thursday night that he "cannot confirm or deny which gates were working or which gates weren't working."

Dianna Hanson, 24, died instantly but Cous Cous caused additional wounds to the woman's body after her death. "She did not suffer. As tragic as this death is, it's important to know that she wasn't alive for a long time," Hadden said.

Lt. Hanson, who's not related to the victim, told ABCNews.com that he "cannot confirm or deny which gates were working or which gates weren't working."

Dianna Hanson was reportedly talking on her cell phone with a co-worker at the time of the incident when the call abruptly ended, suggesting Hanson might have been completely caught off guard by the lion. The co-worker grew concerned when Hanson failed to call back, The Associated Press reported.

Another employee tried unsuccessfully to lure Cous Cous away from Hanson and into another enclosure.

Less than 30 minutes after Hanson entered the cage, Cous Cous was shot by a Fresno County sheriff's deputy who responded to a call, authorities said.

The body of the 500-pound lion is now at a vet facility in Tulare County awaiting a necropsy to determine what may have caused the fatal attack.

Hanson was two months into an internship program at the Cat Haven in Dunlap, a small town in Fresno County near King's Canyon National Park, when she was killed.

"Even though she was only with us for a little over two months, she was part of our family," said Wendy Debbas, the president of Project Survival Cat Haven, a non-profit group associated with the sanctuary. "She made instant friendships with everybody up here. Everybody loved her.

"She has songs she made up for each of the cats," Debbas told reporters Thursday. "A cute example of that is we have jaguar cubs named Samba and Rose. Samba's song was not 'La Bamba' but 'La Samba.' And Rose was 'Kissed by a Rose.' And she had songs like that for all of the cats. She was vivacious. She loved her work. She loved big cats."

Hanson's father said Thursday that she never feared working with big cats, but he always feared something might happen to her.

"Anybody who works with cats knows that they are wild animals and they can turn even on people closest to them. So I always had this horrible, nagging premonition that I would get a call like this," Hanson's father, Paul, told ABC News.

Hanson said his daughter loved to be around big cats and that working with them was her true passion in life.

Hanson's grief-stricken father is now left with the question of why his daughter was in the enclosure with the lion. "How she ever got inside the cage and why she would be inside the cage [is unclear], because I thought she made it real clear that they don't let anybody in the cage except the owner," Paul Hanson said.

In a statement on Facebook, Hanson reflected on his daughter's time working at the sanctuary.

"Once there, she gave me the tour and showed me all the big cats there with which she would be working. Of course, Dianna being Dianna, her favorites were the tiger and the lion ... who killed her today," he said.

Dianna Hanson trained with three tigers and a lion while in college at Western Washington State University. She also traveled to Africa to work with large cats, Paul Hanson said.

"Di, we will always love you. And we will miss you so much. But I know that you will be happy. For now, you truly are in the eternal 'Cat Haven,'" Paul Hanson said in the statement.

Cous Cous was raised at the preserve from 8 weeks old, and even made an appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" when he was a cub.

Cat Haven was founded in 1993 and is run by Project Survival, a privately funded education and conservation organization.

The 100-acre facility is home to a variety of wild cats -- including tigers, leopards and other threatened and endangered species that are kept for limited breeding and use in educational programs, according to Cat Haven's website.

Officials said the park has had a good history, and had an active permit to operate.

Cat Haven also runs an outreach program, and its "cat ambassadors" may sometimes be taken off-site to make appearances as part of that program, according to the website.

The preserve is run by a core staff supported by volunteers.

ABC News' Larry Dechant and Suzan Clarke contributed to this report.

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