Searchers have recovered the body of a 2-year-old Nebraska boy snatched by an alligator at Walt Disney World.
The boy was attacked Tuesday night as he waded in shallow water at the edge of the Seven Seas Lagoon at Disney’s Grand Floridian resort.
Demings identified the boy as Lane Graves of Elkhorn, Nebraska.
The search team grew to 50 people Wednesday as trappers and divers searched Disney’s network of man-made canals, ponds and lakes.
**THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. PREVIOUS STORY BELOW.**
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.
Wildlife officials captured and killed four alligators from the lake overnight but found no trace of the boy, authorities said at a dawn press conference.
“We’ve looked at those alligators but couldn’t find any evidence that they were involved,” said Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
“After a long period of time the hope does dim, but we’re keeping hope. Daylight hours will help. We’ll be able to see more, we’ll be able to observe more. The conditions will improve as the sun comes up.”
Authorities said more personnel, including a 10-person diving team from the Orange County sheriff’s office, had joined what was still classified as a “search and rescue” operation, according to sheriff’s spokesman Jeff Williamson.
“We determined that this child was playing at the edge of the water, probably about a foot or so into the water, when this alligator came up and attacked the child,” Williamson said.
A 2-year-old boy is still missing after an alligator dragged him into water near Disney resort in Florida https://t.co/ZXeFoq2mMq
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) June 15, 2016
“The father did his best, tried to rescue the child, however to no avail. A struggle did ensue and the father has some sort of minor lacerations to his arm, so he was able to get over there fairly quickly.
“You know how a father who witnesses this must have felt. It is tragic, it is heartbreaking, there’s no other way to say it. We’re just going to keep searching and searching and searching.”
Williamson said there were no signs alerting guests to the possibility of the presence of alligators. “The sign says no swimming. There’s no other sign,” he said.
Wiley said the attack was unusual. “It’s not common at all, in fact it’s very rare for people to be attacked by alligators, in Florida or anywhere you find alligators,” he 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.
Asked if alligators were known to be in the area, Orange County sheriff Jerry Demings told a Tuesday night press conference: “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.
“Disney, I will tell, is completely cooperating with this investigation. Their priority is on recovering the child and assisting this family tonight.”
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 scratched his hand in his attempt to grab his child from the alligator and was currently being assisted by authorities.
As search helicopters circled overhead, some guests gathered in clusters to discuss what had happened and at least one broke down in tears.
Demings said that at about 9.16pm 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.
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.”
One guest, who gave his name only as Justin, indicated a couple sitting on a wooden seat whom he believed to be the parents of the missing child. They were in their 30s and dressed in holiday clothes; the woman was wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt. The couple were deep in conversation with a manager and police officer.
“It’s terrible,” Justin said. “You can’t even fathom what they’re going through.”
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”.
The commission provides advice on how to coexist with alligators.
American crocodiles also are found in the state, primarily in the south.