ORLANDO – A mom vacationing with her family at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa posted photos showing her son standing right where Lane Graves was standing when an alligator attacked him.
“I took these pics at the exact spot this happened between 8 and 8:30 p.m.; the incident happened at 9 p.m.,” wrote Jennifer Venditti of Massachusetts in an open letter on Facebook page pleading for prayer for the family; her post has been shared nearly 100,000 times.
PAST COVERAGE: The body of 2-year-old recovered after gator attack
Lane Graves, son of Matt and Melissa Graves of Elkhorn, Neb., was 2. His dad tried without success to fight off the animal.
“They do appreciate all of the prayers that have gone forward,” Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said late Wednesday afternoon. “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, after authorities scoured the area via boat, helicopter and with a dive team. Sonar equipment was used in the “murky” water to make the recovery, in about 10 to 15 feet of water, Demings said. His body was intact, Demings said.
Officials will perform an autopsy but the sheriff said he believes “the child was drowned by the alligator.”
Disney has closed beaches at its resorts. The pool closest to the Grand Floridians’s beach also was closed on Wednesday.
Demings said Lane was playing along the water’s edge, doing “what any 2-year-old would do” on a pleasant Florida evening.
Indeed, Venditti’s message and photos illustrate exactly what Lane was doing – just wading in the water. There are “no swimming” signs posted at the property but no alligator warnings.
“I can assure you alligators were not on my mind at all when Channing was in the water,” Venditti wrote. “It’s a tiny beach, surrounded by pools, water slides, a restaurant and a fire pit. I can’t conceive that an alligator would be in such a busy, small space.”
Her open letter asked for prayers for the family and those who witnessed the attack.
“How does one go home without your baby in tow?” she wrote.
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. As of Wednesday officials had removed five gators. They weren’t sure if they’d found the one who attacked Lane Graves.