Deputies: Child dragged into water by gator near Disney’s Grand Floridian

Orlando Sentinel – by Christal Hayes and Stephanie Allen

A 2-year-old boy who was attacked and dragged into the water by an alligator on the shores of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa Tuesday night was still missing early Wednesday morning.

Deputies are in the water and air, calling it a search-and-rescue operation.  

“Right now we’re going to bring in some fresh eyes and continue with the search,” said Jeff Williamson, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.”

Teams searching for the toddler found four gators, but no sign of the child.

Deputies are using sonar today to search the Seven Seas Lagoon man made lake, with help from a helicopter and 10-person dive team, Williamson said.

Additional Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers will also be in boats searching.

Nick Wiley, executive director of FWC, said investigators aren’t giving up hope in their search, but the chances of a successful rescue fade the longer it goes on.

“Right now, all we’re doing is searching for a little boy to hopefully bring a family some closure,” Williamson said.

Attacks ‘very rare’

It’s unknown how many gators are in the lake.

It spans roughly 172 acres and connects to other waterways.

Wiley said attacks such as this are “very rare,” especially with a toddler.

There was one fatal, unprovoked alligator attack in Florida last year — the first since 2007, according to FWC.

In that case, also in Central Florida, a DeBary man swimming in Blue Spring State Park suffered wounds consistent with an alligator attack.

James Okkerse, 61, was killed in October.

There was no timetable for the search for the boy at Disney.

“We just want to keep searching and searching and searching until we can’t search anymore,” Williamson said.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said Tuesday that rescue personnel had been actively looking for the child in the Seven Seas Lagoon for hours. A dive team with sonar equipment was on standby — just part of a 50-person rescue team on the scene.

“As a father, as a grandfather, we’re going to hope for the best in these circumstances, but based on my 35 years of law enforcement experience, we know we have some challenges ahead of us,” Demings said.

Duncan Dickson, a former Disney executive who now teaches at UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, said the property’s interconnected network of canals makes it difficult to keep gators out of the lakes.

“The team attempts to relocate the gators to the uninhabited natural areas as best they can, but the gators don’t understand the boundaries,” he said.

“Normally, Seven Seas Lagoon is so busy with water traffic that the gators don’t frequent the area. At twilight when things calm down can be another story. It is truly a tragedy.”

Dad tried to save son

Demings said the Nebraska family of five was relaxing on the shoreline when the alligator attacked the boy. The father entered the water and tried to pry the child from the gator, but was unsuccessful. He had scratches on his hands after the ordeal.

Parents then alerted a nearby lifeguard that an alligator had attacked the boy. Officials estimated it was between four and seven feet long.

The initial report came into officials at 9:16 p.m. Tuesday, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Rose Silva said.

Deputies closed off the area with crime-scene tape. Multiple emergency vehicles filled the front drive of the Victorian-style hotel and a helicopter hovered overhead. About 50 members of the Reedy Creek Fire Rescue, Orange County and the Florida Fish and Wildlife officials joined forces to search for the child and the alligator.

Disney pools and beaches are also closed as search efforts continue.

There are no signs warning of gators in the area, but there are notices posted against swimming in the lake.

The Grand Floridian is a luxury resort owned by Disney. It is one of three hotels on the monorail line, just one stop away from the Magic Kingdom.

The late offers a panoramic view of the Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary Resort, the Polynesian Resort and the Wilderness Lodge.

Jacquee Wahler, external communication director at Walt Disney World Resort, said she was “devastated” by the event.

“Everyone here at the Walt Disney World Resort is devastated by this tragic accident. Our thoughts are with the family,” he said. “We are helping the family and doing everything we can to assist law enforcement.”

“Tough week in Orlando’

Hotel guest A.J. Jain and his wife traveled from Georgia to Disney for a conference.

“I’m just here to say a prayer,” he said. “I can’t imagine what those parents are going through. It’s been one tough week in Orlando.”

This is just the latest tragedy in the Orlando area within a week span.

Singer Christina Grimmie was killed after a concert at the Plaza Live Friday night. The gunman killed himself after shooting her.

Early Sunday, a gunman killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others at the Pulse nightclub. The gunman was killed by law enforcement as they raided the club.

Jacquee Wahler, external communication director at Walt Disney World Resort, said she was “devastated” by the event.

“We are all doing our best to deal with all the situations that we have going on here, but our staff is very resilient. And tonight, they’re very focused on assisting this family.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Staff writers Matthew Mauney and Sandra Pedicini contributed to this story.;

Copyright © 2016, Orlando Sentinel

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