The former soldier who stripped naked and fed himself to the lions at a Chile zoo never got over his mother dying from breast cancer when he was 11, MailOnline can reveal.

Franco Ferrada, 20, launched himself into the lion pit at Santiago Zoo in front of horrified onlookers on Saturday while claiming to be a prophet sent from God.

He left a note in the pocket of his abandoned clothes to be a prophet and declaring the end of the world was nigh.

‘The apocalypse has arrived, and I will know when it shall come,’ he wrote. ‘I am the prophet and I have returned for my people.’

It is unclear whether he was trying to end his life, although witnesses at the zoo spoke of how he recounted to them the biblical hero, Daniel, who was thrown to the lions but saved by an angel sent by God.

Along with his scribbled prayer, two strange drawings of lions were found in Mr Ferrada’s wallet by paramedics as he was rescued from the cage and transferred to his Santiago emergency room.

It is thought the episode may be in some way related to the death of his mother from breast cancer almost 10 years ago.

Mr Ferrada was put into care – and ‘never forgave his alcoholic father for abandoning him’, according to friends. It is said his father was driven to drink by the loss of his wife.

‘Franco appeared to be a very happy young man on the outside,’ said a shopkeeper in the Puente Alto district of Santiago, where the Ferrada Roman family live. ‘His actions at the zoo surprised us all, but his family is very troublesome.’

‘They are notorious in Puente Alto for being very raucous and often drunk,’ said Mr Castellano, who comes into contact often with the Ferrada family.

Today, Mr Ferrada, who is listed on Facebook as having worked at Burger Kind in Santiago, Chile, has no relationship with his father, and joined the army following his discharge from the state orphanage system in order to escape his mental demons, according to many who knew him in his home town of Puente Alto.

Currently recovering in the Santiago hospital Clinica Indisa, with wounds to his face, skull, neck, shoulders and groin, Mr Ferrada is one of nine children.

In 2006, following the death of their mother, Ruth Aurora del Carmen Roman Villegas, all nine children were taken into Chile’s SENAME state care system when their father refused to care for them.

Mr Ferrada’s older brother Jose Luis Ferrada is serving a jail sentence for alcohol-related crimes, while his other siblings live in the impoverished Puente Alto district, an area known for its high crime rates.

He left the state care system at 18 to join the army, where he served in the base at Coyhaique for 18 months, in the Chilean state of Aysen.

‘He was a very happy boy,’ said his military colleague Gonzalo Molina, ‘It’s so strange for me to find out he had psychological problems.’

Following his discharge from the army in 2014, Mr Ferrada was living in the centre of Santiago with other young friends, and working in a warehouse for a Chinese business.

His grandmother Nolbertina Muñoz told the Chilean media. ‘The death of his mother was very difficult for Franco. After that he was always very concerned with taking care of his brothers and sisters.’

But she added: ‘He visited me last weekend. He seemed happy and told me he was very content.’

Despite his friends and family being unaware of his mental suffering, the cracks in Franco’s psyche began to show. On Mother’s Day he wrote an emotive message on Facebook lamenting his loss.

‘Mummy, it’s been nine years since you left for the arms of the Lord,’ he wrote.

‘I always remember the sacrifice you made for my siblings and me. How I would love to have you here, to hug you and kiss you and feel your protecting warmth, just as when I was born.’

In the following days he wrote a shorter, cryptic message – saying: ‘Only I can write my life.’

And three days before throwing himself naked to the lions in which two of the beasts mauling him were shot dead, he wrote: ‘I’m here to give you love.’

Santiago Zoo is now considering legal action again against Mr Ferrada, accusing him of trespass for climbing into the lions’ enclosure.

Zoo director Alejandra Montalva said: ‘He trespassed into an area where the public are not normally allowed and we understand that he forced the roof of the lion’s enclosure.

‘It was from there that he jumped, took off his clothes and started to attract the lions.’

She said she was ‘deeply affected’ by the deaths of the two lions, a male and a female.

‘The zoo has an established protocol because people’s lives are very important to us,’ said Montalba.

She added that there were no fast-acting tranquilizers available to stop the lions from mauling the man.

One witness, Cynthia Vasquez, said zoo security guards were slow to react and that the animals did not attack the man as soon as he entered the enclosure.

‘He entered the enclosure from above and the lions started to play with him, and then after they attacked him,’ she said.

She added security ‘first they threw water, evacuated the people and only later fired shots’.

She also said the man was ‘shouting things about Jesus’.

A father who was at the park with his young son, told news channel Chilevision: ‘Everyone started screaming when they saw him.’

Another witness added: ‘There were a lot of children there, and parents covered their eyes while it was going on. He was screaming religious things.’

The news channel said a suicide note that was found inside his clothes made allusions to the apocalypse as being a reason for his attempt to take his life.

By Saturday evening, Mr Ferrada was said to no longer be in a life-threatening condition.

Dr Sebastian Ugarde of Indisa Clinic said his heart almost stopped.

He added: ‘He suffered several injuries and trauma to the head and the pelvic area. We have high hopes that will recover and that will be fine.’

For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see www.samaritans.org for details.

Read the original story on the Daily Mail

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Alasdair Baverstock MA is an award-winning multimedia foreign correspondent based in Mexico City, with more than five years of experience covering Latin America. Originally from London, and with full NCTJ certification, he specialises in news and feature journalism for print, radio and television. His clients include TIME Magazine, the Daily Mail, Fox News, BBC, Daily Telegraph, TRT World, and others.

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