The woman attacked by a lion at a California exotic animal park was talking to a colleague on the phone in the moments before she was killed.
Fresno County coroner David Hadden said the co-worker became concerned when the conversation ended abruptly and 24-year-old Dianna Hanson failed to call back.
He says Ms Hanson was cleaning an enclosure when investigators believe the lion may have used its paw to lift a partially opened door of a smaller cage.
The 550-pound lion broke her neck with an apparent swipe of the paw.
Ms Hanson had been working for two months as an intern at Cat Haven, a 100-acre exotic zoo east of Fresno, California.
Mr Hadden said that Ms Hanson, described by her father as a “fearless” lover of big cats, died instantly when the five-year-old lion broke her neck.
The large enclosure where Hanson was killed includes a smaller cage where animals can be confined for feeding or when the large space is being cleaned.
The lion known as Cous Cous somehow managed to open the gate, said Mr Hadden.
“The lion had been fed, the young woman was cleaning the large enclosure, and the lion was in the small cage,” he said.
“The gate of the cage was partially open, which allowed the lion to lift it up with his paw. He ran at the young lady.”
Ms Hanson’s father said his daughter’s goal was to work with big cats at a zoo and that she died doing what she loves.
Paul Hanson, a Seattle lawyer, described her as a “fearless” lover of big cats.
That love was apparent on her Facebook page, which is plastered with photos of her petting tigers and other big cats. She told her father she was frustrated that Cat Haven did not allow direct contact with animals.
“She was disappointed because she said they wouldn’t let her into the cages with the lion and tiger there,” Mr Hanson said.
The owner of the zoo, Dale Anderson has said that he is the only person allowed in the enclosure when lions are present.
“We want to assure the community that we have followed all safety protocols,” he said.
“We have been incident-free since 1998 when we opened.”
Friends of Ms Hanson recalled her passion for cat conservation.
“She was lovely, energetic, athletic. She did everything she could to help our conservation efforts,” said Kat Combes of the Soysambu Conservancy in Kenya, where Ms Hanson had recently volunteered to work in the Cheetah Research Centre.
The lion, which had lived at the park since it was a cub, was later shot by Fresno County sheriff’s deputies who were trying to reach her body.
Post-mortem results revealed she died quickly of a broken neck, possibly from a paw swipe by the lion, and the numerous bites and scratches she suffered were inflicted after she died.
“Which means the young lady ... wasn’t alive when the lion was tossing the body about,” said Mr Hadden.
“We think the lion hit her with his paw and that’s what fractured her neck.”