June 15, 2016 – theguardian.com- A father fought in vain to wrestle his two-year-old son from the jaws of an alligator at the Disney World resort in Orlando, Florida, police have said.
A massive search is under way for the missing boy, who was on holiday with his parents and two siblings from Nebraska.
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Jerry Demings, Orange County Sheriff, told a 1am press conference how the family, who have not been named, were relaxing in a beach area at the edge of a lake on Tuesday when the alligator struck.
“There is a sandy beach area and the family was out simply relaxing … and in the water along the lake’s edge at the time the alligator attacked the child.
“It’s my understanding the father was there nearby and the child was playing in the water, just a foot or so into the water, and the alligator came up,” he said.
“The father struggled to try to get his son and was not successful and then alerted others to try and assist him in the process.”
“At some point I am told the mother may also have entered the water. The parents diligently tried to get the child,” Demings said.
A lifeguard nearby was alerted to the ordeal. Witnesses to the incident have given detailed accounts to authorities.
The incident happened at the Seven Seas Lagoon adjacent to Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel, where the family had been staying as guests since 12 June. Demings said there are warning signs that say no swimming in the water. (spaced apart at great distance)
Asked if alligators were known to be in the area, the sheriff replied: “We will be investigating the entire activities here. We have not had any recent reports or complaints about nuisance alligators in the area or any of that. But the investigation will play itself out.
The size of the alligator was unclear. Demings said he had heard estimates varying from 4ft to 7ft.
The family was on holiday from Nebraska, and the boy was one of three children. The father was believed to have injured his hand in his attempt to grab his child from the alligator and was currently being assisted by authorities.
Demings said that at about 9.16 pm someone called 911 to report that “a two-year-old child had been attacked by an alligator”.
Emergency services responded and there were at least 50 law enforcement personnel searching the lake, hampered by darkness.
There are no signs warning of gators in the area, but there are notices posted against swimming in the man-made lake.
They include marine units on boats, an alligator trapper, search helicopters and a dive team on standby.
“Hopefully we will successfully recover the child before daylight,” Demings said, adding: “We’re not leaving without the child.”
But he admitted: “As a father, as a grandfather, we’re going to hope for the best in these circumstances, but based upon my 35 years of law enforcement experience, we know we have some challenges ahead of us.”
A Disney spokeswoman said: “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.”
As a burst of fireworks and illuminated spires of Disney’s Magic Kingdom were visible in the distance Justin, 40, a father of four who works in sales, added: “It’s supposed to be the happiest place on earth. I’m here for work and my family wanted to come with me, but tonight I called my wife and said I’m glad you didn’t come, it could have been one of our kids.”
Steve Wade, 43, who works for General Motors, stood near the water to get a better view before Disney staff calmly but firmly ushered him back. “It’s as horrifying as you can think of,” he said.
Another man, who did not wish to be named, said: “I heard the father went in after the child and tried to fight the alligator off but couldn’t do it.
“It’s not cool. They should have signs up along the water. I sat on the beach the other night and smoked a cigar, right where the kid got pulled in.”
Demings said: “We’re doing our best to deal with all of the situations that we have going on here, but our staff is very resilient and tonight they’re very focused on assisting this family.”
Chad Weber, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, extended “thoughts and prayers” to the family.
The commission was running the investigation in parallel with the Orange County sheriff’s office and Weber said the two were “putting every effort into locating the child and trapping this alligator”.
An alligator trapper was already out on the water, he said. The investigation would take into account any previous reports of alligators sighted at the lagoon.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, alligators are found in all of the state’s 67 counties, living in marshes, swamps, rivers and lakes. Population growth, particularly in waterside areas, has led to “more frequent alligator-human interactions, and a greater potential for conflict”.