LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (WSVN) – Officials have recovered the body of a 2-year-old who was dragged into the water by an alligator on Disney property.
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said, “At about 1:45 today, members of the Orange County Sheriff’s dive team located what is believed to be the remains of the deceased, a 2-year-old.”
The sheriff also identified the family. The child, Lane Graves, is survived by his parents, Matt and Melissa Graves, from Elkhorn, Nebraska.
Demings said the body of the boy is now at the medical examiner’s office for an autopsy. “The body was completely intact, so at this time, we will go through the formality of a formal identification,” he noted. “There’s no reason to believe that the body that was recovered is not that of Lane Graves.”
“We have some sort of closure to this,” said Nick Wiley, Executive Director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “Our investigation is still ongoing, and we’re going to continue to evaluate the evidence we have, and we’re going to try to continue searching. We’re gonna make certain that we have the alligator that was involved, that we remove it from the lake.”
The attack occurred Tuesday night, at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, where the 2-year-old, Lane Graves, was dragged by an alligator into the Seven Seas Lagoon. Several law enforcement departments launched a search soon after.
“There were eyewitnesses here who saw the child taken under the water,” said Demings.
As search continued into Wednesday afternoon, Disney has reported that it has closed all beaches and marinas at its resorts to ensure the safety of its guests, they said.
According to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, the family was relaxing by the lagoon after an outdoor movie viewing. They were visiting from Nebraska and were three days into their vacation.
Authorities said Lane’s father tried to do everything they could to save the toddler. “The father was standing nearby, within a few feet, and the father entered the water and grabbed the alligator’s head,” said Demings. “He was trying to take the child from the grip of the alligator’s mouth, and the alligator won that struggle.”
In seconds, Lane’s parents stood helpless on the resort’s sandy shoreline. Witness Ramon Escobar told CNN the boy’s mother was devastated. “You can imagine how horrendous it was. She was doubled over, she was crying, she was inconsolable,” he said.
The father of the boy is said to have suffered minor lacerations to his arms from trying to pry the alligator’s mouth open.
The sheriff said Lane had been playing in ankle-deep water. After the incident, Disney personnel closed all nine of the Grand Floridian’s beaches.
The gator was described to be between 4 and 7 feet long. During the search, at least five gators were captured for forensic analysis. Wiley noted it is possible they have the gator responsible, but the investigation is continuing.
He also said the FWC will work with Disney to deal with alligators in the area.
In a press conference, earlier that morning, Wiley said it’s rare for people to be attacked by alligators.
The Seven Seas Lagoon stretches 172 acres and is linked to canals, estuaries and other bodies of water. “We’re going to make certain that we got the alligator that was involved, and that we remove it from the lake,” said Wiley.
OCSO spokesperson Jeff Williamson said OCSO had multiple boats with sonar searching the lakes and connecting canals, as well as a dive team. Aviation teams are also aiding in the search.
More than 50 law enforcement officers from several departments had been searching the lagoon overnight. “We’re pulling extra resources in conducting a parallel investigation with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office,” said FWC spokesperson Chad Webber. “We’re pulling officers from different parts of our region to come and assist us, and we’re putting every effort into locating the child and trapping this alligator.”
Tape was secured around the lagoon as Orange County Deputies worked to find the child. “As a father, as a grandfather, we’re going to hope for the best in these circumstances,” said Demings, “but based upon my 35 years of law enforcement experience, we know that we have some challenges ahead of us at this time.”
The Grand Floridian Resort is just one stop away from Magic Kingdom on the monorail.
Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahaler said they are devastated by what has happened, and when asked if they were aware alligators were on the property, Disney said there are “No Swimming” signs posted near the lagoon.
Signs reading “No Swimming Please” could be seen located near the body of water, but they don’t mention anything about alligators being in the water.
Walt Disney World Resort President George Kalogridis later issued a statement that read, “There are no words to convey the profound sorrow we feel for the family and their unimaginable loss. We are devastated and heartbroken by this tragic accident and are doing what we can to help the family during this difficult time.”
Authorities said there is no record of anything like this happening ever before. According to officials, it is almost impossible to know how many alligators are within the vast complex.
Deputies said they found the body fairly close to where the alligator attack occurred. “The body was, I’m told, about six feet down, and they were able to go in and get it,” said Demings.
If you encounter an alligator over four feet in length that poses a threat to humans or property, call the FWC Alligator Hotline: 1-866-FWC-GATOR.
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