LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Walt Disney World closed beaches at its Florida resorts Wednesday while dozens of rescuers searched a lagoon for the body of 2-year-old boy who was snatched off the shore and dragged underwater by an alligator as his father tried to fight off the reptile.
Authorities said Wednesday that the child was presumed dead.
Wildlife officials removed four alligators from the water and cut them open, authorities said, but they didn’t find any sign of the boy.
A Disney representative, speaking on condition of anonymity because the company had yet to prepare a formal statement, said the entertainment giant was closing beaches “out of an abundance of caution.”
After 15 hours of searching, officials said they planned to continue looking for the child’s body.
“We’re going to be here throughout,” Sheriff Jerry Demings said.
Wildlife officials said the attack was a rarity in a state with a gator population estimated at around 1 million. But it still spooked visitors in a city built on tourism.
“We have been to Yellowstone and encountered grizzly bears, but this is just freaky. A lizard?” said Minnesota tourist John Aho, staying at the park with his wife, Kim, and their 12-year-old son Johnny.
Kim Aho said their son was leery after hearing what had happened.
“He’s a little freaked out about the gator,” she said.
The family of five from Nebraska was on vacation at the Seven Seas Lagoon outside a resort around nightfall Tuesday when the child waded no more than 1 or 2 feet into the water and was taken from a small beach, sheriff’s and state wildlife officials said.
The boy’s father desperately tried to save him, suffering lacerations on a hand. Neither could a lifeguard who was nearby, officials said.
“No swimming” signs were posted at the beach, Williamson said, but the child was wading, not swimming.
Demings said there had been no other similar alligator attacks on the lake.
Nick Wiley with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said witnesses estimated the alligator at between 4 feet and 7 feet in length. He said none of the four alligators removed from the water showed any signs of having been in contact with the boy.
The beach area where the animal grabbed the child is part of the luxury Grand Floridian resort, across the lake from Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park. The man-made lake stretches about 200 acres and reaches a depth of 14 feet. The lake feeds into a series of canals that wind through the entire Disney property.
More than 50 law enforcement personnel searched the well-tended lagoon along with an alligator tracker and marine units equipped with sonar to search the lake’s sandy, mostly flat bottom. Divers were available if needed.
Though Florida has grown to the third-most populous state, fatal alligator attacks remain rare. There have been 23 fatalities caused by wild alligators in Florida since 1973, according to data compiled by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Those fatalities were among 383 unprovoked bites not caused by someone handling or intentionally harassing an alligator.
Eight children, ages 2 to 16, are among the fatalities. Five died while swimming in lakes, rivers and canals. The youngest victims were killed near lakes, including a 2-year-old girl who wandered 700 feet from her fenced backyard and a 3-year-old boy who left a roped-off swimming area in a county park to pick lily pads.
Associated Press writers Joshua Replogle in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, and Freida Frisaro and Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this report.