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UPDATE: Body of 2-year-old dragged into water by alligator near Disney found

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UPDATE: Florida authorities have found the body of a 2-year-old boy who was dragged off by an alligator Tuesday night at Disney resort.

The Nebraska toddler was playing in the water on a beach area near Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa at 9:16 p.m. Tuesday when the alligator snatched him and dragged him underwater in front of his horrified parents. The father tried to get his son back, but wasn't able to, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said.

Demings said the boy's body was found at about 1:45 p.m. ET Wednesday, and the remains were fully recovered at about 3:30 p.m.

The grisly discovery brought to a close a search that involved more than 50 law enforcement officials, including Marine units who relied on sonar equipment to look for the boy in the lake. Initially a search-and-rescue operation, Demings said at a noon press conference there was "no question" the boy was dead after so many hours underwater and that the hunt had turned into a recovery effort.

But he had vowed to continue searching until the boy's body was found.

"I just happen to have a 2-year-old grandson, so for me, this is a very human experience that we are talking about, where we are dealing with this family now who there's no question will lose a 2-year-old child," he said.

The family was visiting the Seven Seas Lagoon from Nebraska, according to Demings, and was identified as Matt and Melissa Graves. The two-year-old was Lane Graves.

The alligator was described as between four and seven feet long. Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, had said earlier Wednesday that at least five alligators had been trapped and euthanized for analysis. He told reporters it wasn't possible to examine the alligators without killing them first.

"They have to be euthanized to be analyzed," he said, adding that his agency has a "very good, close working relationship" with Disney to remove nuisance alligators.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott called both the sheriff and the Florida Fish and Wildlife director to get updates on the search effort, and officials said they had been in touch with Disney executives.

The search effort was hampered by the large size of the man-made lagoon, which has signs around it warning people not to swim in it.

Jeff Williamson, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Office, said Wednesday morning the signs didn't specify why swimming was prohibited.

"All we know is that [the boy] was on the edge of the water," Williamson said. "My understanding is that he wasn't swimming."

His family members alerted a nearby lifeguard after the attack, and authorities were called. The boy's parents then "diligently tried to get the child," Demings said.

Officials said the boy's parents had been undergoing counseling since the incident, and Disney was "doing everything they can do to make the family comfortable," Demings said.

Jacquee Wahler, vice president of Walt Disney World Resort, said Wednesday morning: "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."

Disney closed all beaches, ferry boats, and marinas until further notice.

There have been at least 41 unprovoked "major" alligator attacks in Florida since 2010, according to the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission records. At least two deaths in 2015 were the result of alligator attacks.

A swimmer in Blue Spring State Park was killed in an attack in October, and a burglary suspect in Brevard County is believed to have been killed in November as he hid from police, according to the commission and the Brevard County Sheriff's Office.

Earlier this month, an alligator was seen carrying a dead man in its jaws in Lakeland, Florida, 60 miles southwest of Orlando, although it appeared the man had died before the alligator got a hold of him.

But alligator attacks at Disney are almost unheard of because the resort staff "have worked diligently to make sure their guests are not unduly exposed to the wildlife" that are indigenous to Florida, Demings said.

While Tuesday's attack is the first at the Seven Seas Lagoon, in 1986, an alligator grabbed an 8-year-old boy between its teeth at Walt Disney World's Fort Wilderness, according to the Orlando Sentinel archives. Paul Santamaria, of Bristol, New Hampshire, was able to escape with lacerations and puncture wounds after his 10-year-old brother beat the gator with his hands and his 12-year-old sister pulled him out.

The seven-foot-4-inch alligator then slipped back into the pond it had slithered out of, the Sentinel reported.


PREVIOUS STORY: A 2-year-old attacked by an alligator while on vacation with his family at a Disney resort is almost certainly dead, a Florida sheriff said Wednesday.

The toddler was playing in the water on a beach area near Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa at 9:16 p.m. Tuesday when the alligator snatched him and dragged him underwater in front of his horrified parents. The father tried to get his son back, but wasn't able to, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said.

The hunt for the boy, initially a search-and-rescue operation, is now considered a recovery effort, Demings said Wednesday afternoon.

"It has been now about 15 hours since the child was taken into the water, so we know that we are working on recovering the body of the child at this point," he said at a press conference. "Our ultimate goal is to try to bring some closure to the family by recovering their loved one."

Eyewitnesses saw the boy pulled underwater Tuesday night, Demings said, adding "it's certainly not survivable" to be submerged for this many hours.

The family is visiting the Seven Seas Lagoon from Nebraska, according to Demings, and won't be identified by officials until the boy's parents have the chance to notify relatives personally of their ordeal.

"I just happen to have a 2-year-old grandson, so for me, this is a very human experience that we are talking about, where we are dealing with this family now who there's no question will lose a 2-year-old child," he said.

More than 50 law enforcement officers have been searching the lake by boat and by air for the alligator, described as being between four and seven feet long.

A trapper captured and euthanized at least five alligators, but none had shown evidence of being involved in the attack, said Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He told reporters it wasn't possible to examine the alligators without killing them first.

"They have to be euthanized to be analyzed," he said, adding that his agency has a "very good, close working relationship" with Disney to remove nuisance alligators.

Jeff Williamson, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Office, said Wednesday morning that there were signs warning people not to swim in the lagoon, although the signs didn't specify why swimming was prohibited.

"All we know is that [the boy] was on the edge of the water," Williamson said. "My understanding is that he wasn't swimming."

His family members alerted a nearby lifeguard after the attack, and authorities were called. The boy's parents then "diligently tried to get the child," Demings said.

Officials said the boy's parents were undergoing counseling. Disney was "doing everything they can do to make the family comfortable," Demings said.

Jacquee Wahler, vice president of Walt Disney World Resort, 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."

Disney closed all beaches, ferry boats, and marinas until further notice.

There have been at least 41 unprovoked "major" alligator attacks in Florida since 2010, according to the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission records. At least two deaths in 2015 were the result of alligator attacks.

A swimmer in Blue Spring State Park was killed in an attack in October, and a burglary suspect in Brevard County is believed to have been killed in November as he hid from police, according to the commission and the Brevard County Sheriff's Office.

Crews searched the lagoon at a Disney resort throughout the night, looking for a 2-year-old child who was dragged away from his father by an alligator, according to Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Wiley says millions of people swim in Florida waters every year and it’s safe, despite this “rare occurrence” at the Seven Seas Lagoon at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa at Walt Disney World in Orlando.

He also says that multiple alligators have been pulled from the lagoon and are being sacrificed to determine “if they might have been involved” in the attack.

The child was playing in the water on a beach area near Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa at 9:16 p.m. Tuesday "just a foot or so into the water" when the incident occurred, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said.

"The father at some point struggled to try to get his son and was not successful," he said.

The family is visiting the Seven Seas Lagoon from Nebraska, Demings added.


PREVIOUS STORY: By JAY REEVES, Associated Press

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) - The search continued Wednesday morning for a 2-year-old boy who was dragged into the water by an alligator near Disney's upscale Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, authorities said.

The effort was still considered a "search and rescue operation," said Jeff Williamson, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

"We are very hopeful," he said at a morning news conference. "Sometimes you get the worst, but we are hoping for the best."

The family of five from Nebraska was on vacation and wading in the Seven Seas Lagoon about 9:20 p.m. Tuesday when the attack happened in an area where "no swimming" signs were posted, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings told a news conference earlier in the morning. The father tried to rescue his son but was unsuccessful, Demings said.

The alligator was estimated to be 4 to 7 feet long, but its exact size was not known, Demings said. The father suffered cuts and lacerations.

The beach area is part of the luxury Grand Floridian resort, across the lake from Disney's Magic Kingdom theme park.

More than 50 law enforcement personnel searched the well-tended lagoon along with an alligator tracker and two marine units in an effort that continued through the night. Williamson said more personnel would be brought in Wednesday morning to offer some "fresh eyes" for the search.

Nick Wiley with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation said it's rare for people to be attacked by alligators, but he added that the creatures move around. He said four alligators were taken from the water overnight, but officials found no evidence they were involved. He said the alligators have to be euthanized before they are analyzed.

Williamson said the boy was at the edge of the water, probably about a foot or two into the water, when the alligator attacked. The water was dark Tuesday night as searchers looked for the boy, Williamson said. They also used a sonar boat.

Williamson said Disney's boats were the first ones in the water.

Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahaler said everyone at the resort was devastated by what happened and Disney is helping the family.

When asked if Disney was aware of alligators on the property, Wahaler advised there were signs that said "no swimming."

Williamson brushed aside reporters' questions about the odds of rescuing the child at this point. "Right now, hopefully, we're searching for a little boy to bring the family some comfort," he said.

Demings said there had been no other recent reports of similar alligator attacks on the lake.

In March 1997, a 3-year-old New Smyrna Beach boy was killed by a 450-pound alligator that grabbed him and dragged him into Lake Ashby in Volusia County as he walked on the shore with his dog. Officials believe the 11-foot gator was attracted by the dog. Adam Trevor Binford was pulled under the surface and drowned. Wildlife officials shot the alligator, which was still holding the boy's body 20 hours later.

The latest alligator attack comes amid what was already a tragic week in the Orlando area. On Sunday, a gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, leaving 49 victims dead in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

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