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Boy snatched by gator is presumed dead; Disney beaches close

  • Florida Fish and Wildlife and an Orange County Sheriffs helicopter searched for a toddler early today, after the boy was dragged into the water Tuesday night by an alligator near Disney’s upscale Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

  • An area near where an alligator dragged a 2-year-old boy into the water near Disney’s upscale Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday. Speaking at a news conference early today, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said the family of five from Nebraska was on vacation and wading in a lake Tuesday evening when the attack happened. (Courtesy WKMG via AP)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. » Walt Disney World closed beaches at its Florida resorts today while dozens of rescuers searched a lagoon for the body of 2-year-old boy who was snatched off the shore and dragged underwater by an alligator as his father tried to fight off the reptile.

Authorities said today that the child was presumed dead.

Wildlife officials removed four alligators from the water and cut them open, but they found no sign of the boy.

A Disney representative, speaking on condition of anonymity because the company had yet to prepare a formal statement, said the entertainment giant was closing beaches “out of an abundance of caution.”

After 15 hours of searching, officials said they planned to continue looking for the child’s body.

“We’re going to be here throughout,” Sheriff Jerry Demings said.

Wildlife officials said the attack was a rarity in a state with a gator population estimated at around 1 million. But it still spooked visitors in a city built on tourism.

“We have been to Yellowstone and encountered grizzly bears, but this is just freaky. A lizard?” said Minnesota tourist John Aho, staying at the park with his wife, Kim, and their 12-year-old son Johnny.

Kim Aho said their son was leery after hearing what had happened.

“He’s a little freaked out about the gator,” she said.

The family of four from Nebraska was on vacation at the Seven Seas Lagoon inside a Disney World resort around nightfall Tuesday when the child waded no more than 1 or 2 feet into the water and was taken from a small beach, sheriff’s and state wildlife officials said.

The boy’s father desperately tried to save him, suffering lacerations on a hand. Neither could a lifeguard who was nearby, officials said.

“No swimming” signs were posted at the beach, Williamson said, but the child was wading, not swimming.

Demings said there had been no other similar alligator attacks on the lake.

Nick Wiley with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said witnesses estimated the alligator at between 4 feet and 7 feet in length. He said none of the four alligators removed from the water showed any signs of having been in contact with the boy.

The beach area where the animal grabbed the child is part of the luxury Grand Floridian resort, across the lake from Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park. The man-made lake stretches about 200 acres and reaches a depth of 14 feet. The lake feeds into a series of canals that wind through the entire Disney property.

More than 50 law enforcement personnel searched the well-tended lagoon along with an alligator tracker and marine units equipped with sonar to search the lake’s sandy, mostly flat bottom. Divers were available if needed.

Though Florida has grown to the third-most populous state, fatal alligator attacks remain rare. There have been 23 fatalities caused by wild alligators in Florida since 1973, according to data compiled by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Those fatalities were among 383 unprovoked bites not caused by someone handling or intentionally harassing an alligator.

Eight children, ages 2 to 16, are among the fatalities. Five died while swimming in lakes, rivers and canals. The youngest victims were killed near lakes, including a 2-year-old girl who wandered 700 feet from her fenced backyard and a 3-year-old boy who left a roped-off swimming area in a county park to pick lily pads.

Associated Press writers Joshua Replogle in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, and Freida Frisaro and Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this report.

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  • going to need to put signs with icons of gators to illustrate the why of no swimming. guests with no gator experience would then clearly understand the danger of being in or close to the water.

    • Areas are appropriately marked to indicate the dangers. Sad to say as we have seen on the news over and over, people disregard the signage and go out anyway, go where they are not supposed to go. Remember the videos of people trying for selfies with grizzly bears, moose, other animals. Then they are shocked when the animal attacks. Really?

      • I suspect that the average person seeing a “No Swimming” sign would think that the area had hazardous currents, a steep drop off, pollution or something like that, not a risk of animal attack. I found the curious statement in the story was somebody saying the child was wading not swimming, I mean what’s that supposed to mean, the child was in the water. When we went to WDW we stayed a Port Orleans and regularly took the boat ride to Downtown Disney. It was nice I didn’t see any gators. That’s not to say there aren’t any. My personal experience is that when you are at WDW you are just overwhelmed with the whole Disney experience the danger from gators just never really enters your mind.

      • In a local incident, a tourist stood by a blow hole that clearly had a sign and fell in. And common sense would tell you to stay a distance from the opening. The result? The state had to pay the family who filed a lawsuit.

    • I’ve stayed at WDW and there are signs saying no swimming all around that lagoon. It’s not used for swimming, but for boating; boats take you across to the Magic Kingdom, and you can rent smaller boats at your resort. Certainly we’ve seen people ignoring signs in Hawaii about staying on the trail; they don’t, and fall to their deaths sometimes.

      • “No swimming” signs were posted at the beach, Williamson said, but the child was wading, not swimming. OK SA editors, who the heck is “Williamson”. The persons is not identified in the story.

    • People expect that swimming/playing in a designated resort area should be safe. Years ago my family played in the same area that this happened. We didn’t spend much time in the lake as it was/is very murky, not because we feared alligators. However, in a pond near the hotel we were at, we went out in peddle boats until we saw gators in the water. We got out very soon after. I’m guessing we’ll see a major settlement in the 8-9 digit range. I think Florida/Federal laws should be modified to allow for a significant reduction of the gator population. Gators were once on the endangered list but no longer.

    • Orlando is taking some major hits. Girl contestant from the Voice shot dead at a concert in Orlando. Massacre on LGBT on Sunday and now this? Economy slow down coming there.

  • Sounds like here. No hiking signs but still people go. That boy was in a no swimming area with signs. The parents should be keeping a real close eye on their kids. Especially a 2 year old. Sad for the boy and family.

  • I find it hard to believe they could justify keeping a dangerous wild animal there in the first place.

    Several years ago I recall a city forced a resident to get rid of a back yard pet alligator that had grown large. The neighbors complained.

    And WDW keeps, as per the story, 5 of them in a lagoon where people use boats, including smaller boats?

    Unless there is more to this, it seems they are liable up the grindoons.

    • WDW is built in swampland, which is the alligators habitat. The alligators are not “kept” by Disney. I believe that wildlife conservation allows them to cohabitate there. Maybe Disney needs to be more thorough on educating resort guests about the dangers there.

  • Why would Disney Resorts build an artificial lake in an area known to contain alligators? Asking for trouble.
    So sad about the little boy.
    BTW the signs should say “KEEP OUT OF WATER” unless on a boat.
    The no swimming signs are misleading.

  • In any case there should have been signs warning of alligators. This at least gives people a chance to exercise caution. People, especially those who are not from Florida would not be expecting to encounter dangerous alligators in a family-oriented resort.

  • Itʻs a man made lake at a resort that caters to families. Why are there alligators there? They probably knew that there was a possibility of those critters gaining access to the lagoon. Why no signs? Reminds me of the movie “Jaws” where they hid the shark attacks for fear that people wouldnʻt come to the beach area. Itʻs ” Amity” all over again but this time it is real! So sad!!!

  • They’ll probably be sued because the sign didn’t also include “No Wading.” And because there isn’t a picture of an aligator on the sign. Though, responisble parents would’ve used common sense, and kept their child away from the water, because there is a “No Swimming” sign, and that should suffice.

  • Quit with all the irresponsible parenting dribble. They were at a resort. The kid was walking in water along a beach shoreline. Who in their right mind would have expected an attraction like that, built to lure people in and take their money for the privilege of being on the beach and wading along the shoreline, to have dangerous animals lurking and ready to prey? Yes, irresponsible if the kid were drowned. Yes, irresponsible if there were warnings that the water contained alligators. But, irresponsible to let a child wade in the water at a resort beach with no warning that alligators might be lurking? I don’t think so. This is on Disney. If they’re going to invite people in to take in the fun, charm and allure of this man made beach and the water’s edge, then they’d better make sure either there are no alligators, or that people understand the hazards and possibilities of there being alligators in the water.

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