In another tragedy in Orlando, Florida, a 2-year-old boy identified as Lane Graves was taken by an alligator at the Seven Seas Lagoon, just outside the upscale Grand Floridian Resort and Spa at Walt Disney World. The resort is just across from the Magic Kingdom theme park.
Lane was with his parents, Matt and Melissa Graves, who were on vacation. They live in Elkhorn, Nebraska, reports The Associated Press. They also have a 4-year-old daughter.
Lane was taken by an alligator at around 9 p.m. Tuesday night. Over 50 officials from Orlando, Orange County and Disney mounted a search for Lane and the alligator all day, but they could not find the boy in time to save him. Officials determined on Thursday that the cause of death was “drowning and traumatic injuries.”
On August 22, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office released a report ruling that Lane’s death was an accident. The family has already said that they will not sue Walt Disney World.
Lane’s death was just the latest tragedy to hit the Orlando area. On Friday night, The Voice singer Christina Grimmie was killed at a nightclub. Then on Sunday, the Pulse nightclub was the site of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history when a gunman killed 49 people.
In a statement, the family said they “appreciate all the prayers that have gone forth to allow those of us working on the professional side to do our jobs to recover their son so that they can move forward at this time with a proper burial.”
“There are no words to convey the profound sorrow we feel for the family and their unimaginable loss,” Disney World spokesman George A. Kalogridis told the AP. “We are devastated and heartbroken by this tragic accident and are doing what we can to help the family during this difficult time. On behalf of everyone at Disney, we offer our deepest sympathies.”
Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO Bob Iger has also commented on the tragedy. “As a parent and a grandparent, my heart goes out to the Graves family during this time of devastating loss. My thoughts and prayers are with them, and I know everyone at Disney joins me in offering our deepest sympathies,” Iger said.
“We are devastated and ask for privacy during this extremely difficult time,” Matt and Melissa Graves told the Associated Press in a statement Thursday.
Here is what we know about the case and Lane. (This post will continue to be updated.)
1. Lane’s Father Wrestled With the Gator as the Boy Was Pulled Into the Lagoon
Matt Graves tried to rescue his son, but was not able to. Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said this morning that Matt Graves wrestled with the seven-foot alligator, which had his son in its jaw. He suffered minor injuries. The incident happened while they were attending an outdoor movie screening. Melissa Graves also dived in to help.
Lane’s parents then ran to the life guard at the beach area, but when they came back to the scene, they were unable to find the boy or the alligator.
Demings also said that the boy was not doing anything wrong, just acting like any toddler would. Lane was “wading … along the lake’s edge at the time that the alligator attacked,” Deming said. However, lagoon has signs warning visitors not to swim in it.
“I heard somebody screaming and yelling. I thought someone got in a fight,” Bill Wilson of New Harmony, Indiana, told The Orlando Sentinel about the scene. “I looked over and here comes one of the lifeguards…The mother was there and she was frantic, running up and down looking.”
On Thursday, Demings told the Associated Press that it is unlikely that the parents would be charged with a crime, because “There’s nothing in this case to indicate that there was anything extraordinary.” A Disney source also told the AP that there will be a “thorough review” of the sign issue at the lagoon, as many have questioned why there were no signs warning of alligators.
On July 3, The Orlando Sentinel reported that public records related to the case were released, including an email Captain Tom Wellons of the Reedy Creek Fire Department sent his supervisors after talking with Matt Graves. Lane’s father said that there was a second alligator involved in the incident, claiming that another gator attacked him while he tried to rescue his son.
On August 22, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office confirmed in its investigation that Matt Graves did jump into the water to wrestle with the gator in an attempt to save Lane. Detectives have ruled his death an accident.
2. Lane’s Body Was Found Intact & He Likely Drowned, the Sheriff Says
The body of Lane was found at around 1:45 p.m. ET, Demings said. He believes that the alligator drowned Lane.
Divers discovered Lane’s body just 10-15 yards from the shore in water that was six feet deep. His body was found intact.
“Of course, the autopsy has to confirm that, but there is likely no question in my mind that the child was drowned by the alligator,” Demings told the media.
Authorities said during the press conference that the parents going into the water may have scared the alligator off, leaving the boy to drown.
3. Wildlife Agents Captured & Killed 5 Gators During the Search for the Boy in an Effort to Find the Attacker
During the search for Lane, officials found five alligators in a nearby lagoon, reports The New York Daily News. All five were killed in the hopes that one of them had Lane.
“This is a very human experience that we’re talking about where we’re dealing with this family now who, there’s no question, will lose a 2-year-old child,” Demings said.
Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told NBC News that there is a “good chance” that one of the five alligator killed did have Lane’s body. However, the investigation is ongoing, so they are not sure.
“We are terribly heartbroken at this outcome,” Wiley told NBC.
4. Alligator Attacks Are Unusual in Florida & Police Hadn’t Received Any Recent Reports About Gators
Officials told CNN that they have never had an attack on a young child by an alligator at Disney World. There had also been no reports of nuisance alligators in the area recently, Demings said.
“Everyone here at the Walt Disney Resort is devastated by this tragic accident,” Jacquee Wahler, a vice president at Walt Disney World Resort, said. “Our thoughts are with the family. We are helping the family and doing everything we can to assist law enforcement.”
Although there are thousands of alligators in Florida, there was only one other major attack reported to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The person survived that attack.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that the most recent death from an Alligator came in Brevard County. The sheriff’s officer there told the Sentinel that a burglary suspect was killed by an 11-foot-alligator. In October, a man was killed by an alligator while swimming in Blue Spring State Park.
Alligator attacks at the Seven Seas Lagoon are rare because it is usually so full with traffic. “Normally, Seven Seas Lagoon is so busy with water traffic that the gators don’t frequent the area. At twilight when things calm down can be another story. It is truly a tragedy,” former Disney executive Duncan Dickson told the Sentinel.
This is not the first time there has been an alligator attack at Disney World, although it has been nearly 30 years since the last one. In October 1986, The Associated Press reported that Paul Richard Santamaria of New Hampshire was not seriously injured by a seven-foot alligator at a campground.
“It was frightening, but he is in good condition and we’re very fortunate it wasn’t worse,” Paul’s mother told the Orlando Sentinel at the time.
However, this is the second tragedy at Disney World this year. On March 22, there was a death at the Contemporary Resort that investigators believe was a suicide.
In July 2015, the Orlando Sentinel reported that a three-year-old child drowned at the Art of Animation Resort.
5. The Elkhorn Community Is Rallying Around Lane’s Family After His Tragic Death
Lane’s father works at Infogroup in Omaha. The family attends St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Elkhorn and officials told parishioners in an email to pray for them.
The Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce CEO David G. Brown said in a statement that the tragedy is “hard to comprehend.” Brown continued, “Matt has served on our Chamber Board since 2013. We stand ready to assist him, his wife and family as they grieve the loss of Lane.”
The Graves’ neighbors put a white teddy bear and basket of flowers in front of their home.