ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – The parents of a Nebraska toddler killed by an alligator at Walt Disney World say they’re devastated by the loss of their son, whose death prompted the entertainment giant to add gator warnings at the resort.
A statement by Matt and Melissa Graves of Omaha, Nebraska, said words can’t express the shock and grief their family is enduring.
“We are devastated and ask for privacy during this extremely difficult time,” said the statement, released by a family friend Thursday.
The brief statement also thanked authorities in Orlando, Florida, for their assistance after the gator grabbed 2-year-old Lane Graves from shallow water in a lake at a Disney hotel Tuesday.
An animal described as being as long as 7 feet snatched the little boy as he waded in shallow water around nightfall Tuesday. The beach, located at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa across a lake from the Magic Kingdom, had “no swimming” signs but no warning about alligators.
The company said it will now add gator warnings. No time frame was announced immediately, and the resort’s beaches remain closed.
A statement by Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler said the company also was conducting a “swift and thorough review of all of our processes and protocols.”
While it’s an unwritten rule for Florida residents to keep small children away from ponds and lakes in a state with an alligator population estimated at more than 1 million, many out-of-state visitors aren’t aware of threat posed by the reptiles.
Kadie Whalen of Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, said her three young children and niece were playing on a resort beach at the water’s edge four years ago when the beady eyes of a 7-foot gator appeared in a lake just a few feet away. She screamed and everyone scattered.
No one was hurt, but after her experience, this week’s fatal alligator attack didn’t surprise her.
“We knew that Disney was aware that this was a problem, and yet they encourage people to be there,” Whalen said Thursday in a telephone interview.
State wildlife officials say they receive nearly 16,000 alligator-related complaints a year. Last year, they removed more than 7,500 gators deemed to be a nuisance.
Depending on the size of an alligator, the state may send out a trapper, as happened after the gator grabbed the boy at Disney’s Seven Seas Lagoon. Officials said five alligators were removed from the lake during the search for the child, whose body was found in the water Wednesday.