Zanesville, Ohio
A toy bear hung on the fence outside Terry Thompson's farm in Zanesville, Ohio, where 50 exotic animals were set loose on Tuesday. Reuters

Terry Thompson, the owner of an exotic animal preserve in Zanesville, Ohio, who set the animals loose before shooting himself on Tuesday, owed nearly $70,000 in unpaid taxes, officials say.

The sheriff's office would not speculate on why Thompson committed suicide or why he opened the animals' cages before he did so, surely knowing that they would be killed. But people who knew Thompson said his financial situation was dire and had taken a toll on his mental health.

He really had more there than what he could do, Kenny Hetrick, who keeps several exotic animals on a property near Toledo, told The Associated Press. I don't know what his deal was, but he was in over his head.

Hetrick said that Thompson would often take in exotic animals whose owners bought them as babies but didn't want them once they started to grow. This was one of the reasons his number of animals began to spiral beyond what he could handle.

Thompson and his wife -- who left him shortly before he killed himself -- owed $68,000 in unpaid county and federal taxes, and last year, he faced two federal tax liens.

But Sheriff Matt Lutz would not say that that was the reason for Thompson's actions.

To take your own life, Mr. Thompson was not in the right state of mind, Lutz told CBS News. To speculate on why he did this would be a belittlement, I guess, by me, to do that, and I'm not going to do that.

A family friend, Judy Hatfield, said she couldn't imagine Thompson setting the animals loose if he had been thinking like himself.

I know how much he cared for them, and he would know that they would be killed, Hatfield said. I don't know what happened. I'm sure some horrible thing happened to him yesterday to make him do this or allow him to lose focus for a moment and do it. But I don't know what it is, and we may never know.

But apparently, this was not the first time Thompson had acted in a way that endangered the exotic animals on his farm. Since 2004, local officials had charged him at various points with letting his animals run loose and improperly disposing of animal carcasses, according to The Associated Press, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture had received two complaints about unsafe pens and dead or malnourished animals.