Lane Graves was standing in ankle-deep water, bending over to fill a toy bucket, when an alligator suddenly lurched from the water and grabbed him, according to a final report released by Florida wildlife officials Monday.
In the brief report, summarized in chilling detail, investigators concluded that the gator likely viewed the toddler as a raccoon or opossum — its normal prey — as he hunched over at Disney’s Seven Seas Lagoon. With no shallow flats, a deep center and surrounded by busy hotels, the man-made lake provides little suitable habitat for alligators. But gators may have been lured to the area by people feeding them, investigators said.
The agency is conducting a separate investigation to determine if the feeding played a part, but a preliminary review could not link the attack to feeding, the report said.
Lane, 2, was visiting the Grand Floridian with his family in June when they headed to the lagoon for a beachside showing of Zootopia. Matt Graves told investigators he was standing just a few feet from his son when he heard a splash.
When he looked over, Matt Graves said he saw an alligator between five and six feet long grab the three-foot-tall toddler by his head. Graves tried to pry the gator’s mouth open, but it yanked loose and dragged the boy away.
In the hours after the attack, several guests told wildlife investigators they had seen an alligator on the beach close to where the movie was being shown. A North Carolina woman said about 8:15, just 45 minutes before the boy was attacked, her two daughters, 15 and 9, spotted a gator. The older girl told a Disney staffer. Another guest said he spotted a gator swimming toward the beach about 7:30 p.m. A third guest said he photographed an alligator from his hotel at 7:41 p.m., told a Disney worker and was heading to the beach to warn other guests when he heard screaming.
Wildlife officials spent the next several hours scouring the lake for alligators that could have carried out the attack. Most human attacks involve larger gators, over nine feet. Only three were captured matching the size Graves described. Two females had empty stomachs which might explain such an aggressive attack. Investigators believe either could have carried out the attack, but were unable to match bite marks and DNA — no animal DNA was found on the boy — to make a conclusive determination.
Since the attack, Disney has piled up boulders to construct a barrier between the lagoon and the beach and posted new warning signs. Last month, the family announced that it would not sue the resort, despite a lack of warning signs before the attack.
Over the last decade, trappers have captured and killed 240 alligators across the sprawling resort. Disney’s property is considered a targeted harvest area, where alligators are numerous enough to be trapped under one permit. Florida’s alligators are federally protected but managed under a state program that allows nuisance gators, typically larger than four feet, to be killed with a permit. Orange County ranks fifth in the state for the number of bites. Lane’s is the county’s first fatality.