Probe of Disney resort after alligator death not criminal, says sheriff

Police divers recovered the body of Lane Graves (above) from a man-made lake where he had been snatched by an alligator.
Police divers recovered the body of Lane Graves (above) from a man-made lake where he had been snatched by an alligator.PHOTO: AFP

ORLANDO, Florida (REUTERS) - The probe into the death of a two-year-old boy likely drowned by an alligator at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, is not criminal in nature, the local sheriff's office said on Thursday (June 16).

Police divers recovered the body of Lane Graves on Wednesday from the man-made lake where he had been snatched by the alligator as he played at the water's edge the night before.

The investigation is continuing, said Orange County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Rose Silva, adding, "It's not criminal in nature at this time."

She did not provide further details.

A Disney spokesman has said the company would review the posted signs that ban swimming in Seven Seas Lagoon but do not specifically warn about alligators.

The boy was grabbed by the reptile at about 9.15pm local time on Tuesday while his family, on vacation from Elkhorn, Nebraska, relaxed on the shore nearby, sheriffs officials have said. His parents, Matt and Melissa Graves, tried to save the child but were unable to free him from the alligator's grip.

A complete autopsy was conducted on Thursday afternoon on the body of the boy, which was found intact underwater. “The cause of death was ruled as a result of drowning and traumatic injuries,” the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office said in a brief statement. It did not elaborate.

Disney said that chief executive Bob Iger spoke with the family by phone on Wednesday and expressed his sympathies.

The Graves family released a statement praising the local authorities and adding: “Words cannot describe the shock and grief our family is experiencing over the loss of our son. We are devastated and ask for privacy during this extremely difficult time.”

The aquatic predators often roll their larger prey beneath the surface until their victim stops breathing, experts say, and then stash the body away to eat later.

Disney spokesman Jacquee Wahler said on Thursday that resort beaches that were closed after the attack would be off-limits to guests until further notice.

“All of our beaches are currently closed, and we are conducting a swift and thorough review of all of our processes and protocols,” Ms Wahler said in a statement. “This includes the number, placement and wording of our signage and warnings.”

The alligator was believed to be between 1.2m and 2m long. Trappers killed and opened up five alligators on Wednesday for sign of the boy before his body was recovered.

The trappers remained at the lagoon on Thursday after removing a sixth alligator from the water late on Wednesday in an effort to find the one that snatched the child, said Mr Greg Workman, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The commission's executive director, Nick Wiley, has said officials believed there was a good chance they had already captured the alligator in question, but he said the search would go on until that was proved by forensic tests such as bite marks.

Walt Disney shares were down about 1 per cent at US$97.69 around midday on Thursday. Its Orlando resort is the most-visited theme park in the world, drawing more than 20 million visitors last year.

The incident came ahead of Thursday's opening of the company's first theme park in China, a US$5.5 billion (S$7.5 billion) project in Shanghai that boasts Disney's tallest castle.