A visitor who recorded the harrowing moments after a 4-year-old fell into the gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo said Sunday that the hulking ape appeared to be more of a gentle giant — protecting the child before the animal was shot dead.

The video shows Harambe, a male Western lowland silverback gorilla, place his paw on the child before the 4-year-old inches back. Harambe gently nudges the boy toward him and then tugs on the back of his pants.

In a separate part of the video, the 400-pound gorilla stands over the boy on all fours, while onlookers shout in the background.

"I don't know if the screaming did it or too many people hanging on the edge, if he thought we were coming in, but then he pulled the boy down away further from the big group," Kim O'Connor, who shot the video, told NBC affiliate WLWT.

In the video, a woman can be heard screaming "mommy loves you."

"I'm right here," a woman shouts, while others shriek in the background. "Please protect him, God, please protect him."

The station said they removed the more graphic parts of the video in which the gorilla drags the boy through the moat in the gorilla enclosure.

Cincinnati Fire Chief Marc Monahan said Saturday that first responders saw the gorilla "dragging and throwing the child."

The 4-year-old was in the enclosure for more than 10 minutes before he was rescued and brought to Cincinnati Children's Hospital in serious condition, officials said. Harambe was later fatally shot during the rescue.

"The Zoo security team's quick response saved the child's life," said Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard. But he expressed remorse that the Western lowland silverback, a critically endangered species, had to be killed.

"This is a huge loss for the Zoo family and the gorilla population worldwide," Maynard said.

"The zoo's in the business of taking care of endangered animals, and we don't want to be in the situation in which they have to be killed," Maynard said during a news conference Saturday. "Harambe was a good guy," Maynard added.

The gorilla didn't appear to be attacking the boy, but the animal was in an "agitated situation" and "extremely strong," Maynard said.

He said Harambe wasn't tranquilized because the drugs could have taken a while to become effective in an animal of Harambe's size.

Maynard said "the right choice was made," but on social media, people expressed outrage that an endangered animal was killed.

"This gorilla was killed bc [because] of parents negligence," wrote one person on Twitter.

O'Connor who filmed the incident, said she heard the 4-year-old say he wanted to go into the gorilla moat.

"The little boy himself had already been talking about wanting to ... get in the water. The mother's like, 'No, you're not, no, you're not,'" O'Connor recalled, adding that the mother was taking care of several other children.

The incident was the first time anyone had gained access to the gorilla enclosure, and the exhibit is believed to be secure, Maynard said.

While the zoo was open on Sunday, the gorilla attraction remained closed.