Searchers recover body of boy snatched by gator at Disney

2-year-old dragged into Seven Seas Lagoon at Grand Floridian

WALT DISNEY WORLD, Fla. - The body of a 2-year-old boy who was dragged by an alligator into a lagoon at a Disney resort was recovered Wednesday, according to Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings.

The alligator, estimated to be up to 7 feet long, snatched Lane Graves around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday in a sandy waterfront area outside the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa at Walt Disney World near the Seven Seas Lagoon.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office dive team located the body around 1:45 p.m. and recovered it intact about 2 hours later, Demings said. The body was about 15 yards offshore when it was found in the waterway, which is about 6 feet deep.

A formal identification by the medical examiner is pending.

“There’s no reason for us to believe that the body that was recovered was not that of Lane Graves,” Demings said.

[RAW VIDEO: Full news conference]

Demings said an autopsy will be performed to determine the official cause of death.

“There's no question in my mind that the child was drowned by the alligator,” Demings said.

Demings said he and a Catholic priest relayed the news of the discovery to the boy's parents, Matt and Melissa Graves, who were on vacation with their son and 4-year-old daughter from Elkhorn, Nebraska. They arrived at the resort Sunday, the Orange County Sheriff's Office said. 

“It was a tough message to deliver to them,” said Demings, adding that the family was distraught but somewhat relieved that their son's body was intact so they can come to grips with his death.

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Lane was wading in about a foot of water when the gator grabbed him, Demings said.

"The father actually went into the water to wrestle his son from the grips of the alligator," Demings said.

Officials said the boy's father suffered minor scratches on his hand but was unsuccessful in getting Lane back from the animal. Demings said Lane's mother also went into the water, trying to find her child.

"It is tragic. It is heartbreaking. You know how a father must have felt. I cannot come to grips to what it must have been like," Orange County sheriff's spokesman Jeff Williamson said at an earlier news conference.

Disney announced Wednesday that it has closed beaches at nine of its resorts "out of an abundance of caution."

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. On behalf of everyone at Disney, we offer our deepest sympathies," said Walt Disney World Resort president George A. Kalogridis.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials removed five alligators from the lake and said that one of them may be the one that snatched Lane.

“We’re going to make certain that we have the alligator that was involved,” FWC Director Nick Wiley said.

“We have not had any recent reports or complaints of nuisance gators in the area,” said Demings, who added that more than 50 Sheriff's Office employees assisted in the case.

Wiley said he knew of no reports that anyone had been feeding gators at Disney.

Wiley said Disney has its own wildlife management program and routinely removes alligators from its waterways.

"Disney has been proactive in dealing with alligators," Wiley said. "They have an open permit to remove gators. They do everything by the book and have an amazing program."

There are "No Swimming" signs at the lagoon, and no one else was in the water at the time of the attack besides the child, Demings said.

"I would tell guests this is an extremely rare occurrence, but you still have to be careful," Wiley said.

Wiley said tourists should know that it's illegal to feed alligators.

When asked whether the gator that attacked to the boy had any other interaction with humans, Wiley said he didn't know.

"This is very concerning to Disney," Demings added.

“Everyone here at the Walt Disney World Resort is devastated by this tragic accident. Our thoughts are with the family. We are helping the family and doing everything we can to assist law enforcement,” said Jacquee Wahler, vice president of Walt Disney World Resort.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time,” FWC Officer Chad Weber said.

ALLIGATOR INFORMATION

The frequency of serious, unprovoked alligator bites has grown in Florida along with the state's population, but fatal attacks remain rare. Some things to know about alligators from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:

ENDANGERED STATUS

More than a million alligators live throughout Florida, though the species remains listed as a protected species, because it closely resembles the endangered American crocodile.

WATER HAZARD

Alligators can be found in fresh and brackish bodies of water, including lakes, rivers, canals and golf course ponds, and there's an estimated 6.7 million acres of suitable habitat statewide. Alligator bites are most likely to occur in or around water, as gators aren't well-equipped to capture prey on dry land.

FEEDING HABITS

Alligators are opportunistic feeders that will eat what is readily available and easily overpowered. It's illegal to feed wild alligators, because that causes them to lose their fear of humans. While gators can lunge at prey along a shoreline, there's no evidence of alligators running after people or other animals on land.

GATOR PRODUCTS

Hides, meat and other parts can be sold from legally harvested alligators. In 2014, the hides and meat from harvested gators was worth $6.8 million.

RARE ATTACKS

There have been 23 fatalities caused by wild alligators in Florida since 1973, among 383 unprovoked bites not caused by someone handling or intentionally harassing an alligator. Florida averages about seven serious unprovoked bites a year, and officials put the odds of someone being seriously injured by an unprovoked alligator in Florida at roughly one in 2.4 million.

GATOR VICTIMS

Most of the eight children and 15 adults killed by alligators had been in freshwater bodies of water. Other victims include a 2-year-old girl, who wandered 700 feet from her fenced backyard, a 3-year-old boy, who left a roped-off swimming area in a county park to pick lily pads, a 36-year-old man swimming across a pond while trying to elude police, a 54-year-old woman seized by an alligator while landscaping near a pond, and an 82-year-old man killed while walking his dog on a path between two wetland areas.

FIGHT BACK

If an alligator bites someone, they should make a commotion. Hit or kick the alligator, or poke it in its eyes, because alligators will retreat from prey they can't easily overwhelm.

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