A lion housed at a North Carolina wildlife conservatory killed a 22-year-old worker on Sunday after it got loose from a locked space, authorities said.
The Caswell County Sheriff's Office said in a statement that deputies shot and killed the lion to allow officials to reach the victim, identified as Alexandra Black of New Palestine, Ind., after efforts to tranquilize the beast failed.
According to the Conservators Center, a "husbandry team" led by a professionally trained animal keeper was carrying out a routine cleaning when the lion got out. The center said it wasn't immediately clear how the lion left the area.
"The Conservators Center is devastated by the loss of a human life today," said the statement, which added that the center would be closed until further notice.
"This is the worst day of my life. We've lost a person. We've lost an animal. We have lost the faith in ourselves a little today," said Mindy Stinner, the executive director of the Conservators Center, according to WTVD-TV.
Black, a recent graduate of Indiana University, had worked at the center as an intern for approximately two weeks at the time of her death.
"She was a beautiful young woman who had just started her career, there was a terrible accident, and we are mourning," Black's family said in a statement, according to news outlets. "But, she died following her passion."
According to its website, the Conservators Center is home to 15 lions and more than 80 animals in all. The center began giving public tours in 2007 and gets more than 16,000 visitors annually.
The facility was founded in 1999 and is in Burlington, about 50 miles northwest of Raleigh.
The center says it took in 14 lions and tigers in 2004 to assist the U.S. Department of Agriculture with caring for animals that were living in "unacceptable conditions."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.