LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Authorities recovered the remains of the child attacked by an alligator at a Disney resort on Tuesday night. Lane Graves, son of Matt and Melissa Graves of Elkhorn, Neb., was 2.
“We just met with the family and spent some time with them and delivered this update,” Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said late Wednesday afternoon. “They do appreciate all of the prayers that have gone forward. It was a tough message to deliver to them, to let them know that their child is dead.”
Lane’s body was found within the immediate area of where he was last seen, Demings said. Sonar equipment was used in the “murky” water to make the recovery, in about 10 to 15 feet of water, he said.
Officials will perform an autopsy but the sheriff said he believes “the child was drowned by the alligator.”
The sheriff described the family’s last night together as a pleasant one with no hint of the horror about to strike. The Graves have a 4-year-old as well, and the foursome was enjoying time together just before the gator struck.
“They were sitting there, enjoying the evening,” Demings said. “This 2-year-old was along the bank, playing in the water when this occurred.”
He and a member of clergy relayed the terrible discovery.
“I delivered the message along with a priest, a Catholic priest,” Demings said. “Of course the family was distraught.”
Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said gator attacks on people are rare, but noted that Florida waterways are home to many of them. There’s no way to know their whereabouts.
“We have alligators in freshwater throughout Florida,” he said during a news conference at dawn. “They move around.”
He has said repeatedly that Disney is very proactive about dealing with potentially problematic alligators.
At an earlier update, FWC officials noted that Disney employs a full-time staff to deal with potential alligator issues. When a gator becomes a concern, it is euthanized, not relocated. Moving it to a new location merely transports the problem, officials said.
The waterway where the child was attacked and where the search extended overnight and into today is a sizable, manmade area. No-swimming signs are posted. The child was playing near the water’s edge and the sheriff said he was doing “what any 2-year-old would do.”
Matt Graves tried fighting off the animal to no avail.
At the Grand Floridian on Wednesday, the beach and the pool closest to it both were closed on Wednesday. A phalanx of Disney employees (or “cast members,” as they’re officially called) were dispatched to stand guard and to prevent resort guests from taking photos.
Inside the elegant resort on Wednesday, families were enjoying time with Disney characters while outside, law enforcement officers searched via boat and helicopter.
Resort guest Katherine White Popp has posted numerous photo and video updates on her publicly accessible Instagram page. She posted a message granting access to her content but said she’s not giving interviews.
“My hope is that sharing this story gets this family coverage and help in this horrible tragedy,” she wrote. “Mother to mother – that is my only hope.”
On Tuesday night she posted this image showing investigators working with the aid of flood lights.
“Spotlights are off,” she later posed. “.Not sure what that means. I still see a few boats that look like they are searching. They have asked us to close our blinds to prevent reflections.”
At daybreak she posted this image of investigators, still hard at work.
“I can’t believe the sun is even up,” she wrote.