LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The body of a 2-year-old Nebraska boy who was snatched off a Walt Disney World beach by an alligator and dragged underwater was recovered Wednesday, ending a ghastly search at one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.
Divers found the body of Lane Graves of Elkhorn, Nebraska, about 16 hours after authorities first got the call that a reptile had taken the boy at Seven Seas Lagoon, Sheriff Jerry Demings said. The child’s father tried to save him but couldn’t.
The sheriff said it appeared the gator drowned the child and left the body near the spot where was last seen. An autopsy was planned.
“Of course the family was distraught, but also I believe somewhat relieved that his body was found intact,” Demings told a news conference.
The boy’s parents were identified as Matt and Melissa Graves of Elkhorn. A family friend released a statement on behalf of the couple thanking well-wishers for their “thoughts and hope-filled prayers.”
Disney World closed beaches around Seven Seas Lagoon during the search, and it was not immediately clear when they would reopen.
A Disney representative, speaking on condition of anonymity because the company had yet to prepare a formal statement, said the company closed the beaches “out of an abundance of caution.”
While “no swimming” signs are posted at the beach where the animal snatched the boy, no signs warn about alligators. The company representative said it would “thoroughly review the situation for the future.”
Walt Disney World drew more than 19 million tourists in 2013, making it the world’s most-visited amusement park, according to the Themed Entertainment Association, an industry group.
Wildlife officials said the attack was a rarity in a state with a gator population estimated at 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,” said Minnesota tourist John Aho, who was staying at the park with his wife, Kim, and their 12-year-old son, Johnny.
Kim Aho said their son was “a little freaked out about the gator.”
The child had waded no more than 1 or 2 feet into the water of the Seven Seas Lagoon around nightfall Tuesday when he was taken from a small beach, authorities said. The Nebraska family of four was on vacation at a Disney World resort.
The boy’s father desperately tried to fight off the gator, suffering lacerations on a hand, but he could not save his son. Neither could a nearby lifeguard, officials said.
Demings said there have been no other alligator attacks on the lake.
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