The 16 Fatal Alligator Attacks in Florida Since 1997



2-year-old Lane Graves was killed by an alligator at a Disney Resort June 14. In the wake of the tragedy, people are asking what risk alligators really pose. There have been 16 fatal gator attacks in Florida since 1997. You can read about the victims below:

June 14, 2016: Lane Graves, Lake Buena Vista

Lane Graves (Orange County Sheriff's Office)

Lane Graves (Orange County Sheriff’s Office)

An alligator attacked and dragged 2-year-old Lane Graves from the water’s edge at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The toddler, from Nebraska, was vacationing with his parents and sister when the attack happened. His body was recovered fully intact from the Seven Seas Lagoon. Five alligators were killed and authorities are still determining if one of them is the killer.

Nov. 23, 2015: Matthew Riggins, Barefoot Bay

Matthew Riggins

Matthew Riggins (Brevard County Sheriff’s Department)

22-year-old Matthew Riggins was killed by an 11-foot-long alligator while on the run from police, according to authorities. The accused burglar was hiding in a Barefoot Bay pond when the attack happened. His body was found 10 days later with evidence of a gator attack.

Oct. 19, 2015: James Okkerse, Orange City

James Okkerse (Facebook)

James Okkerse (Facebook)

The body of 62-year-old James Okkerse was found at the bottom of a channel in Blue Spring State Park. The day before the fatality, there were two sightings of the 12-foot alligator that killed him. Okkerse’s friend, Russell Anen, told The Orlando Sentinel, “There should be more information put out there for keeping the park in control rather than things getting out of hand,” he said. “We’re not foolish people. We should have been cautioned, and we probably would have asked for the size of the alligator…”

The State Park’s website states:

Swimming is always fun at Blue Springs! The 72°F water is the same temperature year-round and provides a refreshing break in the hot weather. You can bring or rent a tube and float in the spring. Snorkeling is permitted, but not scuba diving.

Nov. 8, 2007: Justo Antonio Padron, Miami

Justo Padron

Justo Padron’s mugshot. (Florida State Prison)

Suspected car burglar Justo Padron, 36, was killed by an alligator more than 9 feet long when he was fleeing from police. Padron jumped into a retention pond in Miami before he was attacked. Witnesses said they shouted to Padron to swim back to shore. When he finally spotted the gator, he screamed and then disappeared.

May 14, 2006: Annemarie Campbell, Silver Springs

Annemarie Campbell, 23, was killed by an alligator when she was snorkeling at Florida’s Ocala National Forest. Campbell’s friends found her inside the mouth of an 11 1/2 ft. alligator. In an effort to save her life, they frantically pried at the gator’s jaws and gouged its eyes. The gator finally released Campbell, but she was pronounced dead after the friends took her to shore.

“You just don’t think of your daughter dying from an alligator,” Campbell’s mother, Dawn Marie Yankeelov, told the OcalaStarBanner.

May 13, 2006: Judy W. Cooper, Pinellas

Authorities said Judy Cooper, 43, was killed on land and then dragged into the water by a an enormous gator that weighed 400 pounds. Trappers killed the animal and found Cooper’s body parts in its stomach.

A spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Willie Puz, said hotter temperatures mean more active alligators in search of food and mates, the BBC reported. “As the weather heats up, the alligators’ metabolism increases and they have to eat more. They might be moving more, but that just shouldn’t mean increased alligator attacks,” he said.

May 10, 2006: Yovy Suarez-Jimenez, Sunrise

Yovy Suarez-Jimenez, 28, was the first of three deaths-by-alligator in the Sunshine State in less than a week’s time. Authorities said she was out for a jog when an alligator “stalked and killed” her.

“It is my professional opinion that the alligator attacked the woman while she was on land. She died of traumatic injuries sustained by an alligator attack, a mixture of blood loss and shock, and in my opinion died very fast,” reported Broward County Medical Examiner, Dr. Joshua Perper.

July 15, 2005: Kevin Murray, Port Charlotte

Kevin Murray, 41, was attacked and killed by a 12-foot alligator in Port Charlotte, Florida, when he was swimming in a canal. A wildlife officer trapped and killed the animal. Murray was known to swim in the canal, and witnesses saw the gator grab him by the arm and pull him underwater.

March 11, 2005: Donald Ray Owen, Lakeland

After being missing for six days, Donald Owen, 56, was found dead only 12 miles from his home. Trappers killed a 300 pound alligator and found Owen’s forearm in its stomach. The same gator had been fed by residents of the area, which is illegal.

Sept. 26, 2004: Michelle Reeves, Fort Myers

Michelle Reeves, 20, died after an alligator attacked her when she went for a midnight swim. Reeves, from Georgia, was visiting her grandparents in a Fort Myers assisted retirement community. She had mentioned to family that she planned on taking a swim in the night, but they advised against it. The following morning, her father found her nightgown by by the lake and called 911. Officials located her Reeves’ body floating face down. Her arm was eaten off and she had puncture wounds.

July 23, 2004: Janie Melsek, Sanibel Island

Landscaper Janie Melsek, 54, was trimming a tree when she was dragged into a pond by a 457-pound alligator. A witness rushed to help, and three police officers were called. They struggled to free her while holding her neck and head above the water.

Melsek was rushed to the hospital where her right arm had to be amputated. She also suffered severe wounds to her buttocks and thighs. After two days in the hospital, the woman died from a severe infection related to the attack.

June 18, 2003: Bryan Griffin, Tavares

12-year-old Bryan Griffin was mauled to death by an alligator while swimming in Dead River located in Tavares, Florida. Friends repeatedly tried warning him to get out of the water before he was pulled under. He was eventually rescued, but later succumbed to his injuries at a nearby hospital.

Deputies and trappers searched the water and killed “any alligators they thought might have been the one that attacked and killed Bryan,” reported the Beaver County Times.

Sept. 11, 2001: Robert Steele, Sanibel

Robert Steele, 82, bled to death after an alligator severed his leg. Steele was walking his dog by a Sanibel Island canal when the incident occurred. His wife, Ellen Steele, heard his screams and thought he was drowning. She pulled him partially up the canal’s bank before calling 911.

The alligator was later found holding his leg in its mouth, and was destroyed by authorities.

June 23, 2001: Alexandria Murphy, Winter Haven

The body of Alexandria Murphy, 2, was found near the shoreline of a lake after she wandered from her backyard in Winter Haven. Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Nelson concluded the cause of the attack was drowning due to an alligator attack.

Alexandra had a broken left arm, as well as bites on her right thigh and both arms. An alligator over 6-foot in length was trapped and killed near the scene.

May 4, 2001: Samuel Wetmore, Sarasota

Samuel Wetmore bled to death after an alligator bit him in the head, chest and both arms. Wetmore, 70, suffered from dementia and it’s believed he wandered away from home. His chewed was found floating in a retention pond with an 8-foot alligator circling the area. The gator was killed and an autopsy revealed some of the man’s remains in its stomach.

March 22, 1997: Adam Binford, Osteen

3-year-old Adam Benford went missing after he was playing in a lake with his brother and a dog. It was suspected that an alligator took the boy, and a trapper later located a 450-pound gator swimming protectively near the boy’s body. The alligator was killed and body parts were found inside the remains.

Officials said when an alligator’s prey is too large to eat at once, it pushes it around to keep it away from other predators.

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