'It bit me!' Crews search Orlando pond after possible gator attack

Witness says teen was flailing in water near Colonial Drive

By Daniel Dahm - Digital Manager, Adrienne Cutway - Web Editor, Jennifer Ortega - Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - A water rescue took place Wednesday for a teenage boy seen flailing in a large retention pond while screaming, "It bit me! It bit me!" according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

Deputies and personnel from Florida Fish and Wildlife and other local agencies converged at about noon on the area of Salem Drive and Marietta Street, near East Colonial Drive between North Goldenrod Road and North Chickasaw Trail.

Deputies cleared the scene Wednesday evening. A deputy on scene said they'll be continuing their search Thursday morning.

Orange County Sheriff's Office public information officer Jeff Williamson said a man who lives in the area was in his backyard and thought he saw something in the water, about 20-30 yards from the bank.

Eric Wolfe was at his home on Timer River Circle for his lunch break when he heard screams coming from the nearby pond.

"Basically, I heard, 'It bit me' and a lot of screaming," he said.

Wolfe said he went inside, grabbed his binoculars to see what was going on and called 911.

"(I) had eyes on him the whole time and relayed his position to dispatch, and he went underwater and didn't come up," Wolfe said.

A source told News 6 that rescue crews were looking into the possibility that an alligator pulled the person underwater, but officials have not confirmed it was an alligator. Neighbors say alligators have moved into the pond over the past several years.

"Put two and two is pretty good," Wolfe said. "There's four alligators in this lake. An eight-foot alligator is usually around where [the teenager] was in and when he screamed something bit him, you can only assume it was an alligator."

Officials said neighbors reported seeing a six-foot alligator in the pond Wednesday.

FWC Officer Chad Weber said it's not clear at this point if an alligator was involved in the boy's disappearance. He said the agency is treating the incident as a case of a missing person and possible drowning.

"We are searching this area until we find an individual," Williamson said.

News 6 spoke with experts at Wild Florida, who said it's mating season for alligators and people need to be on alert.

"Real possibility that they got territorial and decided to show this guy who's boss," said Sam Haught, with Wild Florida. "They probably saw him and he was swimming to close to the alligator."

Experts say if you are bit by a gator, the best thing you can do is fight.

"We say fight every time, punching, kicking, if you can," Haught said.

Crews will continue to search the pond until the boy is found or until the sheriff calls the search off.

"It could be days, literally," Williamson said.

Authorities canvassed the neighborhood Wednesday afternoon to ask residents if they knew of any teenage boys who had been reported missing, but so far they have not been able to identify the boy involved.

Video from News 6 helicopter Sky 6 showed at least three boats searching the north side of the pond near a canal.

Orange County sheriff's deputies said more equipment is being brought in to assist in the search.

Areas around the lake are blocked off by crime tape, and officials from Orange County Fire Rescue, the Orange County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are at the scene. Two ambulances were called to the area.

Residents who live nearby said they didn't hear anything before the rescue efforts were launched. They said teens often fish at the lake despite "no trespassing" signs in the area.

Other recent gator attacks

In June 2016, an alligator snatched and killed a 2-year-old boy who was playing on a beach at a Walt Disney World resort.

Lane Graves died in the attack at the Grand Floridian Resort.

Officials said Lane and his father were on the wet sand of the beach in ankle-deep or less water building a sandcastle when the alligator bit Lane's head as he bent down and pulled him into the water.

Just over a year ago, a 10-year-old girl was attacked by a 9-foot alligator at Moss Park in Orange County.

The FWC said the girl suffered an injury to the front of her knee and several puncture wounds to the back of her knee and lower thigh when the alligator bit her. The girl was able to pry the alligator's mouth open to remove her leg before further injury could occur, according to the incident report.

Monster gators in Central Florida

The FWC uses the term bull gator for alligators over 9 feet long, and each year the agency conducts surveys to see how many bull gators are living in each lake.

[MAP BELOW: Find where monster gators exist in Orlando area]

According to FWC's 2015 survey data, an area of Stick Marsh in northwest Indian River County had the most bull gators. Out of 206 total counted in one trip, 139 of those were over 9 feet long, 68 percent. On another survey trip by FWC, 276 gators were counted, 76 of which were bull gators.

The lake that had the most gators overall was Lake George, located on the St. Johns River. In one survey, FWC counted 2,322 gators, 26 of which were bull gators. At another survey, 2,016 were counted there with 43 bull gators.

Lake Kissimmee came in second for the most gators with 1,935 counted, with 170 bull gators.

As far as Lake Apopka, it, too, was surveyed twice with 1,014 gators with 46 bulls at one time, 788 gators with 21 bulls at another. At Lake Jesup, 1,599 were counted at one time with 52 at 9 feet or larger, and at a second counting, they found 1,151 with 60 big ones.

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