The family of a 2-year-old boy snatched by an alligator at a Disney resort said Thursday that they were “devastated” by the child’s death and asked “for privacy during this extremely difficult time.”
“Words cannot describe the shock and grief our family is experiencing over the loss of our son,” the Graves family said in a statement, reported ABC News. “To all of the local authorities and staff who worked tirelessly these past 24 hours, we express our deepest gratitude.”
The desperate search that began as a rescue operation eventually became a grim recovery effort on Wednesday when divers discovered the boy’s body underwater, officials in Florida said.
Divers found the boy’s body “completely intact” about six feet beneath the surface of the massive, man-made lagoon, not far from the area where he was attacked the previous night, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said Wednesday afternoon.
The sheriff identified the toddler as Lane Graves of Elkhorn, Nebraska. Although a formal identification is pending, “there is no reason to believe that the body that was recovered is not that of Lane Graves,” Demings said.
Lane’s parents watched Tuesday night as the alligator grabbed their son in the shallows of the lake and dragged him deeper into the water, officials said. The father, Matt Graves, rushed into the water and grabbed desperately for the boy; Graves cut his hand while attempting to wrestle Lane away from the gator but was unable to save his son.
Although an autopsy still has to be completed, the sheriff said it is likely that the boy drowned.
“The family was distraught, but also, I believe, somewhat relieved that his body was found intact,” Demings told reporters.
The sheriff told the Associated Press on Wednesday that charges are unlikely against the boy’s parents because “there’s nothing in this case to indicate that there was anything extraordinary” in terms of parental neglect.
The attack occurred on the third night of vacation for the family of four from suburban Omaha. They relaxed on the white-sand beach that stretches along Disney’s luxe Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, one of the features the hotel uses to entice its guests, and they watched their young son wade ankle-deep into the lake known by vacationers as Seven Seas Lagoon.
A sign on the beach noted that swimming was prohibited in the lagoon.
The boy was just about a foot beyond the sand when, after 9 p.m., the alligator attacked.
Authorities from Disney World, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission deployed more than 50 law enforcement officers in helicopters and boats to the Seven Seas Lagoon, in a desperate search for the missing toddler.
By late Wednesday morning, divers with the sheriff’s office had entered the water and were using sonar technology. The search effort was complicated given the “systems built in the waterway,” Demings said.
“There are no words to convey the profound sorrow we feel for the family and their unimaginable loss,” George A. Kalogridi, president of Walt Disney World Resort, said in a statement. “We are devastated and heartbroken by this tragic accident and are doing what we can to help them during this difficult time.
“On behalf of everyone at Disney, we offer them our deepest sympathy.”
Authorities said that although alligators are indigenous to Florida, an attack of this nature is unusual.
“This type of thing” has never happened before in Disney’s 45 years of operating in the state, said Demings, the sheriff.
Disney closed all beach areas and recreational marinas in its resort just outside Orlando, although the Disney World theme parks were open Wednesday.
The Florida resort did not have signage warning of alligators in the water, and the company will “thoroughly review the situation for the future,” a Disney official said.
Trappers removed five alligators from the lake, which covers nearly 200 acres and borders the Magic Kingdom theme park. Investigators will compare bite marks to help identify whether any of the captured alligators attacked the boy, said Florida FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley.
“There is a good chance we already have the alligators because we focused our efforts on that proximity,” he said. “We’re going to go through the process, and if we can’t get a certain match, we’re going to continue to go out and look for alligators.”