In his new book, Disney CEO Bob Iger relives what it was like to learn Walt Disney World was the Pulse gunman's intended target and to speak to the grieving father of Lane Graves, the toddler killed by an alligator at a Disney resort.
In the prologue for "The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned From 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company," Iger retold what it was like to learn of the June 12, 2016, Pulse nightclub shooting and that a 2-year-old boy was killed at the Grand Floridian resort all while opening Disney's Shanghai theme park.
Iger writes that when he first heard of the mass shooting in Orlando, he thought of the 70,000 people in the Orlando area employed by Disney. The longtime CEO said he knew that some of them could have been at the club and waited for more information to confirm his fears.
Two part-time Disney employees were among the 49 dead, Iger said, while several other employees were friends or relatives of other victims.
Between filming an interview for "Good Morning America" and opening ceremonies in Shanghai, Iger said his head of security, Ron Iden, continued to update him on the Pulse investigation. However, Iger wrote, after learning two Disney cast members were among the dead nothing could have prepared him for what came next.
"What we learned next shook me in a way few things have over the course of my career," Iger wrote. "Federal investigators informed Ron that they believed Disney World had been Mateen's primary target."
That information wouldn't be made public for another two years during the trial of the gunman's wife, who was acquitted. FBI investigators learned from Mateen's phone that he had been near Disney World and he was seen on surveillance footage pacing in front of House of Blues at Disney Springs hours before he opened fire at Pulse. Investigators believe because of a heavy police presence, Mateen left and found another target.
"I felt horror and grief for the victims of the shooting, at the same time a sickening 'there but for the grace of God' relief that he'd been deterred by the security we had in place," Iger wrote.
On June 15, while Iger led a VIP tour of the Shanghai park he was pulled aside, by a team member thinking it was for an update on the mass shooting but instead he had been told that 2-year-old Lane Graves was attacked and killed by an alligator on the beach of the Grand Floridian Hotel.
"I did everything I could to focus on my responsibilities, but my mind returned constantly to the Graves family in Orlando," Iger wrote. "The thought that they had come to Disney World, of all places, and suffered such an unimaginable loss, loomed over everything."
On opening day of Disneyland Shanghai, Iger spoke to the toddler's father, Matt Graves, to ask if there was anything he could do for the family.
"Promise me that my son's life won't be in vain," Graves told Iger between sobs.
After the call, Iger said he told his executive team of the promise he made to the Graves family and asked what they could do to keep the promise.
Igers wrote within 24 hours fences and signs were up throughout the Manhatten-sized park warning of alligators and wildlife. In the months after the attack at least 95 alligators were captured at the resort between June 2016 and September 2017, more than double the amount from the 15 months prior, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
As Disneyland Shanghai opening ceremonies were underway on June 16, 2016, Iger said, "it was a happy day. It was also the saddest of my career."