Parents of Toddler Who Fell from Cruise Ship’s 11th Floor Play Area Share New Heartbreaking Details

Photo of Chloe Wiegand smiling in a white sun hat
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As police continue to investigate the death of a toddler who fell 150 feet from a cruise ship on Sunday, heartbreaking details continue to emerge. Previous reports claimed the 1-1/2-year-old, who has now been identified as Chloe Rae Margaret Wiegand, was being held out an open window by her grandfather when she slipped from his grasp -- but a family attorney has denied that ever happened and clarified what really happened in those fateful moments before her death.

  • According to the attorney, the little girl was in fact being held by her grandfather, Salvatore Anello, as the Royal Caribbean cruise ship docked in San Juan.

    She wasn't being "dangled" from an open window, however, as some early reports implied. According to family attorney Michael Winkleman, they were in a children's play area on the 11th deck at the time, which was enclosed in clear glass paneling. That is, except for a single panel, which had apparently been removed to act as a window. 

    As the ship came to dock, Anello placed his granddaughter on a railing to get a better look outside. But what he didn't realize -- until it was too late --  was that the clear glass panel he thought was in front of her, acting as a barrier between her and the open air, wasn't actually there at all.

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  • Winkleman says her parents believe Chloe leaned forward to bang on the glass, just as she does at her brother's hockey games, when she fell forward.

    "Essentially, her grandfather lifts her up and puts her on a railing and where he thinks that there is glass there because it's clear, but it turns out there was no glass there," Winkleman told NBC News. "She goes to bang on the glass like she would have at one of those hockey rinks, and the next thing you know, she's gone."

    Gone. In mere seconds.

  • Winkleman says the toddler's parents, Alan and Kimberly Wiegand of Indiana, are absolutely devastated, and they want answers.

    "Why in the world would you leave a window open in an entire glass wall full of windows in a kid's area?" Winkleman asked.

    It's a valid question -- one that Royal Caribbean has yet to answer.

    A statement from the cruise line said the company is "deeply saddened" by the little girl's death, and that "our hearts go out to the family," but has made no further comments.

  • Meanwhile, news of the little girl's death continues to make headlines and shocks all those who hear it.

    The South Bend, Indiana, police department where Chloe's father Alan Wiegand works as an officer issued a statement extending its "sincerest condolences" to the grieving family. And South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg tweeted a note of sympathy on Monday, saying, "We are saddened by the terrible accident that took the life of Officer Wiegand’s young daughter, and the city is holding this family in our hearts."

  • As if the family wasn't devastated enough, officials are continuing to investigate the death to determine whether Anello should face charges.

    To many who know Anello, who works in IT in South Bend, the thought is unfathomable.

    "People love him here in the county," Anello's boss told CBS This Morning on Tuesday. "He's a very selfless man. He's got a servant's heart, as we say. Just one of the most wonderful human beings that you could ever meet."

  • Although the shocking accident has put parents everywhere on high alert, falling from a cruise ship is still pretty rare.

    Some 28.2 million people vacationed on a major cruise line in 2018 alone, CBS reports. Yet since 2000, there have been 343 deaths attributed to an accidental fall overboard -- a small number, comparatively speaking, though they're nonetheless shocking when they do occur.

    For now, Winkleman says the family is grieving the loss of their sweet little girl as he prepares to do everything he can to hold the cruise line accountable.

    “I think there is going to be blame and significant blame on the cruise line," Winkleman told TODAY, "and I’m going to do everything I can to hold them accountable for what appears to be negligence."