Family, friends say goodbye to zoo keeper crushed by elephant

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DE SOTO, MO (KTVI)-- The St. Louis area mourned the loss of a Springfield, MO zookeeper Monday night.

John Bradford, 62, was crushed by an elephant at the Dickerson Park Zoo, Friday morning.

Bradford grew up on a family farm in Jefferson County and was an all-district football player for Festus High School.

He’d surely have been rooting for the Cardinals Monday night, but for that tragedy at the zoo.

Family and friends had a visitation for him at the Dietrich-Mothershead Funeral Home in DeSoto.

Pastor Kenny Qualls, of the First Baptist Church of Arnold, who’s officiating the funeral service Tuesday morning at 11:00 in the funeral home chapel, was a zookeeper with Bradford for about 10 years.

“John really saw the big picture.  He had a passion.  It would bother him to think that maybe someone’s grandchildren would only see an Asian Elephant in a book,” Qualls said. 

Loved ones recalled Bradford’s commitment to preserving elephant species and the life-changing impact his love and concern for animals had on people, like a scientist who was in the zoo’s explorer program as a teenager.

“He said, ‘I’m a forensic chemist now’.  He said, ‘John just meant the world to me’.  He drove up from a town south of Springfield just to be here for half an hour.  That says a lot,” said Bradford’s sister, Joan.

“It says in Proverbs 10 that the ‘memory of the righteous is a blessing’.  And God’s given us a great gift of memories,” Qualls said.

Bradford was one of 4 children who grew up on the farm the family still owns, where he still worked when he could.  His last visit was a week before his death, during which he also attended a Cardinals playoff game against the Pirates with his brother.

He cut that visit short after the zoo’s matriarch elephant died from a kidney ailment. 

A zoo statement says Bradford was helping move a 41 year old elephant, named Patience, through a chute connecting a barn to the zoo yard – when the elephant lunged, knocked him down and crushed him; Bradford, who’d been with the zoo for more than 30 years, was following the correct protocol, during a process he and his coworkers perform nearly every day.

If it seems that knowing him makes what happened more tragic then you really don’t know John Bradford.

“He just loved these elephants as you look at the pictures it was just amazing.  He lovedconservation.  He was just a great guy. He was just my buddy.  He was my brother.  He was my buddy,” Joan Bradford said.  “He impacted a lot of people.  I’m going to miss him, so, so, much.”

Qualls said elephant handlers from zoos in Houston, Cincinnati, and of course St. Louis, had all paid their respects to Bradford’s family.

Elephant kills keeper at Springfield, Missouri, zoo


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