Police say the founder of a Maine facility that cares for retired circus elephants was killed when one of the animals stepped on him.

Knox County Sheriff's Office deputies say they found 56-year-old James Laurita unresponsive in the barn on Tuesday morning. Police say they believe Laurita fell before one of his two elephants stepped on his chest, apparently accidentally.

Laurita founded the facility in Hope, Maine, with his brother, Tom, in 2011. The two Asian elephants, Rosie and Opal, arrived in 2012.

Laurita was a veterinarian who sold his practice in nearby Camden in 2011 to establish Hope Elephants, where he worked as a caregiver and educator.

He had worked with Opal and Rosie decades ago when he was an elephant handler for the traveling Carson & Barnes Circus.