Maldonado was just a teen when he began working at Exotic’s zoo in late 2013 (via Showbiz Cheatsheet). Hailing from California, he had a history of meth addiction. According to Texas Monthly, one of Exotic’s employees recommended that Maldonado be taken in to work at the zoo to aid in his recovery. Less than a month later, Exotic, Finlay, and Maldonado were married. Per the Evening Standard, Exotic was 32 years older than Maldonado at the time. During their marriage, it’s said that Maldonado’s behavior became unpredictable and unruly, perhaps due to drug use.
On October 6, 2017, he entered the zoo’s gift shop and began to play with a gun. Maldonado believed that if the magazine was removed, the gun wouldn’t fire, even if there was a bullet in the chamber (via Men’s Health). He was wrong. Maldonado lifted the gun to his head and pulled the trigger, killing him instantly. He was only 23 years old. Exotic was devastated and later said that his “entire soul died” when he learned of Maldonado’s death. He reiterated that his husband’s death was not a suicide, but an accident. The Cinemaholic states that his memorial was held at the zoo. Maldonado is survived by his parents and two sisters.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).