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Fans gather to say goodbye to Flaco the owl in New York City memorial

A Eurasian eagle-owl named Flaco sits in a tree in New York's Central Park, Feb. 6, 2023. Flaco, the Eurasian eagle-owl who escaped from New York City’s Central Park Zoo and became one of the city’s most beloved celebrities as he flew around Manhattan, has died, zoo officials announced Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK (AP) — Mournful fans of Flaco the Eurasian eagle-owl were gathering in New York City on Sunday to say goodbye to the beloved celebrity creature who became an inspiration and joy to many as he flew around Manhattan after someone let him out of his zoo enclosure.

A memorial was planned in the late afternoon in Central Park near what organizers call Flaco’s favorite oak tree.

Flaco was found dead on the Upper West Side on Feb. 23 after apparently hitting a building. Testing by zoologists concluded he suffered traumatic impact injuries, but more testing is planned to determine whether he may have been sick.

His death was a heartbreaking end for the birders who documented his daily movements and the legions of admirers who followed along, as people posted photos and videos of the majestic owl with a nearly 6-foot wingspan perched on tree branches, fence posts, fire escapes and water towers — as well as his hours of hooting.

Flaco was freed from his cage at the Central Park Zoo a little over a year ago by a vandal who breached a waist-high fence and cut a hole through a steel mesh cage. The owl had arrived at the zoo as a fledgling 13 years earlier.

Zoo officials and his fans were at first worried about his survival, but he soon proved adept at catching rats and other prey. The zoo later suspended efforts to re-capture him after failed attempts.

Tributes poured in from across the globe after his death. People posted their favorite photos and videos of him on social media in the hours before Sunday’s memorial. Efforts also are underway to put a statue of Flaco in Central Park.

Police are still seeking to arrest whoever let him out of his enclosure.