ORLANDO (REUTERS/AFP) - Police using boats, divers and a helicopter on Wednesday recovered the body of a two-year-old boy after an alligator dragged him into a lagoon in front of his family during a vacation at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, CNN reported citing an unnamed source.
The child was snatched as he played at the water’s edge on Tuesday night, despite his parents’ efforts to save him, by an alligator believed to be between 1.2m and 2m long.
Officials are expected to hold a press conference shortly.
Wildlife officials had earlier caught and killed five alligators from the lagoon to examine them for traces of the boy but found no evidence they were involved, said Nick Wiley, head of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The resort closed its beaches and recreational marinas on Wednesday as search teams had scoured the Seven Seas Lagoon, a man-made lake reaching over 4m in depth.
The family, which was vacationing from Nebraska, was not named.
The dozens of sheriff’s deputies and wildlife officials searching for the boy on Wednesday, numbering as many as 60, had used sonar technology, helicopters and a team of divers.
There are signs prohibiting swimming at the lagoon but the boy was grabbed while his family relaxed nearby on the shore, authorities said earlier.
The boy’s father rushed into the water and fought to wrestle his child from the alligator’s grasp, said Jeff Williamson, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office.
“The father did his best,” he said. “He tried to rescue the child, however, to no avail.”
The father suffered minor cuts on his arm. Authorities said the boy’s mother tried to rescue him too. A lifeguard who was on duty also was unable to reach the toddler in time.
“The gator swam away with the child,” Williamson said.
Alligators are not uncommon in the Seven Seas Lagoon, Wiley said. Alligators have killed five people in Florida in the last ten years, according to official state data.
Wiley said the wildlife commission works with the resort to remove “nuisance alligators” - classed as those which have lost their fear of humans – whenever they are reported.
Disney has operated in the area for 45 years and never had this type of incident occur before, Sheriff Demings said.
“Disney has a wildlife management system that is in place and they have worked diligently to ensure that their guests are not unduly exposed to the wildlife here in this area,” he said.
The Walt Disney World Resort is the world’s most-visited theme park. About 20.5 million people visited the park’s Magic Kingdom in 2015, according to the Themed Entertainment Association.
Shares in Walt Disney Co appeared to be unaffected by the incident, trading up about 0.4 per cent at US$98.23 in late afternoon trading.
A spokeswoman for Walt Disney World Resort said everyone there was devastated by the tragic accident.
Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is described by Disney as a lavish property combining Victorian elegance with modern sophistication, just one stop away from the Magic Kingdom theme park on the resort’s monorail. Rooms start at US$569 per night before tax, according to its website.
Guests can rent motorized boats for cruising or a private lakeside cabana. Children between four and 12 years of age also can embark upon “pirate adventures” on the lagoon.
Jim Hill, a theme park historian who runs a popular Disney fan blog, agreed with Demings the company has been “aggressive”about managing the risk from alligators.
But he said that the attack, combined with other recent bad news in the area, could make people reconsider plans to visit Walt Disney World.
The alligator incident came as Orlando reeled from a gunman killing 49 people at a gay nightclub in the city on Sunday before dying in a shoot-out with police.
The night before that attack, singer Christina Grimmie was shot and killed in Orlando, apparently by a deranged fan, while signing autographs after a concert.
In May, a British health expert warned pregnant women and couples looking to conceive that they should think twice about visiting Walt Disney World because Zika-carrying mosquitoes could appear in Florida this summer.
“When people think ‘the Happiest Place on Earth’, right now that’s not Orlando,” Hill said, referring to a Disney catchphrase for Disneyland. Disney is set to open a new “Frozen”attraction next week at Walt Disney World.
“They have all these press people coming down,” Hill said. “All Disney wanted them to do is talk about Anna and Elsa, and everybody is going to be talking about alligators and Zika and shootings.”
The alligator attack also follows a May 28 incident when a three-year-old boy fell into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, causing zookeepers to kill a gorilla to protect the child.
Wednesday’s incident reignited a spirited debate on social media over responsible parenting, although some users expressed sympathy for the toddler’s family.
“Dear Internet, can we please have a bit more compassion for a family who saw their son dragged away by an alligator?!! #DisneyGatorAttack,” tweeted Jamie Lapeyrolerie (@jamielynne82).