Update: Family in tragic gator attack Disney World issues statement

grand-floridian-resort-2

6/18 Update: This has been a week of horrible tragedies and out of respect for the family who lost a child, I’ve refrained from making any remarks directed at or about the family. However, this today the family issued a statement and I wanted to pass it along here:

“Melissa and I continue to deal with the loss of our beloved boy, Lane, and are overwhelmed with the support and love we have received from family and friends in our community as well as from around the country. We understand the public’s interest, but as we move forward this weekend, we ask for and appreciate the privacy we need to lay our son to rest. Neither Melissa, myself or anyone from our family will be speaking publicly; we simply cannot at this time.”

— Matt and Melissa Graves

I understand why Disney has taken quick action to separate guests from the water’s edge, but I think its mostly show. They can’t prevent all encounters with nature, nor should they even try. The closeness to nature, even while you’re just steps away from some of the best entertainment ever made, is part of the attraction of a Walt Disney World vacation (especially at a place like Fort Wilderness, Wilderness Lodge, both have the word ‘wild’ in the names).

In the end, fences and signs will only serve to keep out some people, those who are determined to get in or near the water still will. Fences won’t prevent encountering a gator away from the water edge or a snake on a walkway or being struck by lightning. When you’re in Florida these are all real risks. If you want to get absurd, maybe all visitors to Florida should be stopped at the border and forced to sign a form that they’re aware of the risks of entering the state. That should do wonders for the nature travel & tourism industry.

I’m not convinced about the effectiveness of fences, but there is something Disney should do that could have prevented this tragic accident – forbid food on the boats, beaches, walkways, boardwalks and decks that overlook any body of water at the resort.

There have been reports of guests feeding alligators from the decks of the new bungalows at the Polynesian. It is illegal to feed a gator (fines start at $500) precisely because it encourages them to associate humans with food. That makes a gator more likely to be in an area with humans and more likely to attack. In the days since the attack, we’ve reached out to those who know about gator behavior and they confirmed this fact.

dvc-polynesian-bungalows

I have not heard if Disney plans to install cameras to watch the deck, balconies, and walkways that line the many water ways, including the bungalows. But if they haven’t they should and Disney should report any infractions to Florida Fish & Wildlife so fines can be issued. Of course, signs should be added like at the Animal Kingdom Lodge warning of the law and the potential fines.

Frankly, if anyone is responsible for the tragic death of the toddler, it’s the people who fed gators from the Bora Bora Bungalows at the Polynesian. I hope Disney takes whatever steps they can to stop that behavior in the future.

3:15pm 6/17 Update: Disney construction crews currently adding fences along the shoreline of Grand Floridian Resort beaches. They also announced new signs will be added.

See Tharin White’s Tweet:

Update: Disney sent the following sign out to the media. This is what they’ll be installing as a warning to guests at beach areas across the resort.

disney-gator-sign

That’s pretty easy to read and understand. No mis-understanding there.

Disney has released a statement with the following:

“We are installing signage and temporary barriers at our resort beach locations and are working on permanent, long-term solutions at our beaches. We continue to evaluate processes and procedures for our entire property, and, as part of this, we are reinforcing training with our Cast for reporting sightings and interactions with wildlife and are expanding our communication to Guests on this topic.”

That’s good to read that a long term solution is in the offing. Because frankly even a fence can’t keep guests and nature apart. Mosquitoes have Zika, storms have lightning, even a squirrel bite can be nasty if it has rabies. There is some risk shared by the guest to be aware of their surroundings when in nature. If a gator bit me on Main Street USA, I’d be upset. But I expect to see them in the water. That’s their home.

—— Previous story ——

The beaches at Walt Disney World remain closed today while Disney huddles and recovers from the tragic loss of a two-year-old boy who was attacked and drowned by an Alligator while walking along the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon near the Grand Floridian Resort.

In our previous coverage we have statements by both Disney CEO Bob Iger and Walt Disney World President George Kalogridis who both expressed their devastation at the loss of a child. Kalodridis also cut short his visit to the opening of Disney’s new theme park resort in Shanghai to return to Orlando after the death.

Now we’re hearing from Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Walher that the Walt Disney World Resort is “conducting a swift and thorough review of all of our processes and protocols. This includes the number, placement and wording of our signage and warnings.”

Right now there are signs asking guests not to feed wildlife and warning them not to swim in the water. This is true at Seven Seas Lagoon, Bay Lake, and similar bodies of water arou the resort. However, there are currently no warnings specifically about wildlife dangers, such as alligators.

(Actually, the Shades of Green resort does have signs up near bodies of water warning guests to avoid gators. So does at least one other nearby resort.)

It does sound like Disney will now be considering additional signage of some sort. Although it’s not clear what they will say or where they will be posted.

I’m not sure that any additional signs would have made a difference. An actual attack on a human by an alligator has only happened once before in the history of Walt Disney World. Disney regularly removes any alligator that grows to be more than 4 feet in length and is deemed a nuisance. This has been very effective method of guest safety. This attack occurred during the nesting period for gators when the animals are known to be more active moving around than in other times of the year.

Even with signs up, guests will still likely dip their toes in the shallow waters of Disney’s lakes and feed the wildlife. It’s human nature to want to do so. When part of the attraction of a Disney vacation is how the resort is located away from everything in the middle of nature, you can’t expect Disney to keep all ‘nature’ away. Humans and wildlife will always collide in Florida, there’s nothing you can do to avoid it.

In fact, one of the problems with the new DVC Bora Bora Bungalows at the Polynesian resort is that guests are feeding the wildlife from the decks. Which, of course, attacks more wildlife to the area and places humans and wild animals in closer contact than they otherwise would be. Disney can plan for this, but there is nothing they can do to stop it completely. Guests are known to let their guard down while on vacation, that’s part of being on vacation.

That doesn’t make the child’s death any less tragic, but I don’t see what could have prevented it without completely fencing off all bodies of water. What would you expect Disney to do in this situation?

It’s a been a tragic week in Orlando. We’ve endured the senseless shooting of upcoming singer Christina Grimmie on Friday, the horrible Nightclub mass shooting on Sunday morning, and the Tuesday night tragic death of a two-year-old boy in the jaws of an alligator in the Seven Seas Lagoon. As a community, we will emerge stronger, but the pain is still front and center for now. Here’s hoping we catch a break along with some time to heal and recover.

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19 thoughts on “Update: Family in tragic gator attack Disney World issues statement

  1. Pingback: Gator drags toddler into lake at Disney's Grand Floridian | The Disney Blog

  2. Samantha Lucas

    Amen to the heal and recover. Thank you John for always reporting with such compassion and straightforwardness without making it all so salacious. I really appreciate that.

  3. Jane

    Your article is right on point with regard to human nature. People express their interest and compassion towards wild animals in way that places both humans and animals in danger. Look at the people who feed the bears in national parks, encouraging them to become dependent upon human food or the men who were so concerned about a baby bison that they picked it up and took it to the ranger’s station. I’m sure they never thought of the consequences that ensued. Additional signs may be a good start, but people should be reminded of their personal responsibility for their safety and that of their family. No matter how hard you or a company like Disney tries, no area, building or home is completely safe. Maybe welcome packets could be tailored to speak to wildlife around each resort, as well as a general reminder of the wildlife in Florida. That may be helpful for people who are not familiar with Florida and reminders for the rest of us. By the way, Animal Kingdom and its cast members do a great job teaching us about animal endangerment and conservation.
    .

  4. Barbara

    This is a tragedy beyond comprehension…as a Mother I cannot imagine what the family is going through.
    Two thoughts….why with posted “no swimming signs” there did the family allow a 2 year old anywhere near the water?
    More importantly, reports say there are over 1 million alligators in Florida waters….they have multiplied tremendously in the last few years. On Long Island we have reduced the deer over-population by allowing hunters in at specific times of the year to hunt them. Why not reduce the number of alligators?
    Please all the animal activists…don’t preach…we do not need 1 million alligators in Florida….we need to protect human life…and the limbs chewed off by alligators.

  5. Sarah

    “Considering”?? Disney has a moral obligation to post warning signs that there are alligators in the lagoon. That sandy beach is misleading, even with the “no swimming prohibited” signs. Guests may think that the signs are there because there is no lifeguard on duty or that the water is not clean. I am a DVC member and lifelong Disney fan, but I am so disaspointed of, what I consider to be, Disney’s negligence here.

  6. Jeremy

    I’m not opposed to additional signage. I think people wanting fences or for 24/7 gator watch at Disney are a little out there. Disney removes large gators from their property when they are spotted but honestly people need to have the understanding that wildlife will make their way anywhere they can find food or shelter. I think a lot of confusion comes from those who haven’t been to Disney World and don’t understand the vast size of the property. I think they imagine the Magic Kingdom with a gated property. I also think we need to understand that while Disney might be morally responsible to add additional signage, they are not legally responsible to tell you why you shouldn’t go in the water. If you choose to let yourself or your children go into a restricted area, Disney isn’t responsible for bad things that can happen. I’m not saying the parents are bad guys and hindsight is 20/20 but making Disney out to be the bad guy is definitely not the right move.

  7. DaleQ

    Hate the idea of the fences. Remember we moved into natures backyard. We need to respect nature and take responsibility for our own safety.

  8. Jennie Lockin

    Disney not only moved into natures backyard, they built the entire place on swamp land. Disney needs to assist the Florida Fish and Game Commission in enforcing the $500 fine for feeding the gators.

  9. Barb

    I feel so bad for the parents of this little boy, they’ve been ridiculed so much by all the, perfect people out there who would never make such a stupid mistake as to let their child near the no swim zone. I have a grown daughter, and when she was little, I watched her like a hawk, but I also know that sometimes kids are just too fast for us. Don’t know how long the little boy was wading in the water, but he might have just wandered in and maybe the parents were after him to get him out. Witnesses said it was so fast. Putting alligator and snake warning signs up may deter people much better than just no swimming warnings. If you are not from Florida you may forget there could be alligators. Disney wants to project that happy, carefree and safe image, but these new signs add an element of recognized danger and reality check to the Disney experience. It is much needed, and should have been posted long before this tragedy.

    1. Frank

      Really Barb, too fast…. The father was in the water with him in that “NO SWIM ZONE”. and guess what there are alligators in Florida. I know that comes as a shock to many but. Responsibility needs to be taken by individuals. It is not disney fault, or the alligators, or the guerrillas. Personal responsibility. Don’t swim where there is a no swim zone.

  10. usnpup

    It is shocking to me to what extent people expect Disney to keep them safe. Disney World is not in a bubble. Real threats exist there the same as everywhere else on Planet Earth. While at Disney you cannot expect to be magically protected from all harm from nature, etc. Lightning strikes, hurricanes, tornadoes, drownings, crime, violence, wildlife, sickness, and death do occur on Disney property. A Disney ticket does not provide people with an exemption from reality. Disney cannot realistically be expected to fence out all waterways (too much naturally occurring water in their 47 square miles of property) and signage is good but the NO SWIMMING signs were ignored. Fences and signs will not stop alligator activity. Feeding alligators/all wildlife is a crime in Florida with a big fine. This law needs to be strictly enforced with violators escorted out of Florida by law enforcement and fined and/or jailed. All residents and visitors must learn to respect nature.

  11. Bill bronstein

    The presence of signs and fences will not diminish a $100 million+ mistake, but it will prevent future mistakes and save lives.

  12. Dan Uff

    Thank you for writing this article.

    Even though Disney does gives someone a false sense of security, one still has to be ‘street smart’ and use common sense. I’ve been to Disney many times, and I always stayed around my parents – even when I didn’t want too.

    People seem to forget ONE common sense thing:

    Florida + Body of Water + Islands = Wildlife.

    Like many of said, DON’T BLAME THE GATOR. He / she was probably there even before that hotel was built.

  13. Jerry

    I’m generally against ambulance chasers and against big payouts such as when Disney fought big payouts over teenagers being killed when they got out and ran around on the “People Mover” ride. However, this is gross negligence on the part of Disney, and Disney needs to be hit hard. The family was not swimming. The parents were right next to the child. Disney did not want to spoil the “magic” by placing an alligator and snake warning sign. They built an attractive man made beach, showed kids movies on the beach, and put lawn furniture and canoes on the beach. They knew people out of town were oblivious to the idea their kids could be attacked by a gator on Disney property. Kids were splashing their feet on a daily basis, and the no swimming signs were not keeping families from just having their kids put their feet on the water. Disney had security there on a daily basis seeing what was happening and DID NOTHING! Their security would have come down hard on anything that would take away from the Disney “magic”. They risked the lives of two years olds from getting eaten alive!

    1. Mary

      I agree with Jerry – as well as some others here on this blog… I was at Magic Kingdom the night of the attack with my husband and 2 daughters. We were leaving MK at around 8:30pm, just minutes before it happened, and as we headed for the monorails we considered going straight to the Grand Floridian to just walk around the grounds and maybe have a cool drink, as it was still very warm at that hour. Being our last day in Orlando and the hottest day of our trip, and we needed to get back to our villa (not on Disney property) to shower and pack, otherwise we certainly would’ve been there when the attack happened. As we rode past the GF, I remember savoring one last look at the “Happiest Place On Earth”. Peering down from our window we could see people strolling on the path along the Seven Seas Lagoon, just like we had done a few nights before after having dinner at the Polynesian… same lagoon, same time of night. While we did not make contact with or linger near the water while on the beach, I can see people not familiar with Florida wildlife sticking their feet in the edge of the water to cool off (as opposed to immersing their body in the water (aka “swimming”).
      Later, back at our villa we learned of the tragedy. Like many others out there I was overcome with horror and sorrow for that poor family. My next thoughts were of the villa we were currently in (again, off property). All signs directing guests to the pool led to a sidewalk, which ran very closely along a waterway. Additional signage along these paths warned of snakes and alligators. I didn’t think much about it before, but afterwards I shuddered to think that our girls had taken this path together, without us, at dusk.
      I full understand that there is no escaping wildlife on these resorts. We have vacationed multiple times at WDW, as well as the Florida Gulf Coast, Panhandle and Hilton Head, SC, and we always, always, see gators (from afar) and/or snakes (too close for comfort). We have friends on HHI who have stories of people pestering the alligator that frequents the canal behind their home. Heck, we saw a snake on the path near the top of Summit Plummet at Blizzard Beach last week. Three years ago we stayed at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, one of the few hotels which borders WDW resort, so it is about as close to Disney as you can get without staying on site. Like Disney, they have a beach with chairs, and even have paddle boats and canoes. However, unlike Disney, they did have signs warning of alligators. With all of this in mind, I certainly didn’t give the gators too much thought while on Disney property, and I certainly didn’t realize how fast they can run, or about their habits, or the way they drown their prey, etc. I can assure you now after reading up on these creatures over the past week I know more than I ever wanted to know.
      I also truly believe that Disney absolutely knew what was going on with the gators at WDW, from people illegally feeding the alligators from the Polynesian Bungalows over the water, to employees fending off gators inside Magic Kingdom, to close encounters by unsuspecting guests (see links below). It is Disney’s business to know these things, after all. I would think there needs to be some level of accountability by Disney (as well as guests breaking the law and feeding the gators).

      If there is any positive to be had out of all of this, it is that WDW will be making changes to help keep guests more safe, and that the general public hopefully has increased awareness of wildlife risks, not just at Disney, but anywhere.

      1. Mary

        Please excuse the typos/grammatical errors above – It was late at night after a day of work.

  14. jojobaker

    They can post signs along all those beaches and someone will still lose limbs or life or be bitten by a poisonous snake. Why? Because signs are not read by alligators or any other wildlife. People barely read them or obey them. You think DISNEY didn’t contemplate the revenue they would lose by putting those signs up long ago? That bottom line won every time. They probably even factored in how many situations like this they could stand against and still make that bottom line look good. They aren’t as ignorant as we think. Wildlife can only be limited by a barrier preventing them from coming over. Therefore, a beach for people is thereby eliminated and a zoo emerges for reptiles. People will just walk or run by the barriers and see hundreds of gators, snakes and crocodiles that once had no limits to them. Previous guests will become scared out of their wits to know that they could’ve been lunch at anytime. Frivolous lawsuits will arrise for people claiming to have been exposed to unnecessary dangers. I don’t believe for one moment this was an isolated incident. People keep quiet or are paid to keep quiet. Some never are seen again because they were taken by them gators. No barrier is gonna keep a snake out. I’m a Florida native. Lived first 38 years of my life there. Those swamps,lakes,ponds, marshes and any other body of water are homes to some of the most deadliest and poisonous snakes alive. Moccasins and Rattlers. Florida is home to 2 universities called Florida Gators and FAMU Rattlers. Where do you think they got them names? However, noone would’ve thought that at a Disney vacation spot we would have to beware of the gators and snakes. Whose gonna round up all the snakes? After the unfortunate incident, they reportedly remove 6 gators within 15 hours. Now how many you think are out there? Plus that beach looks like a swamp. Who lays next to a swamp? Gators and snakes hide in the grassy marshes. I’m done!!!

  15. Linda Collins

    I am a longtime Disney fan and have taken my children and grandchildren to WDW resorts for over thirty years. This tragedy has shaken me to the core. I will never be able to look at any body of water at the resorts without the horrifying vision of an alligator snatching an innocent child. Just thinking about alligators looming under the surface of the water terrifies me. Little Lane Graves was on the sandy beach along with his parents. There was no sign forbidding guests to sit on the beach near the water. THEY WERE NOT SWIMMING. Had there been large, clearly marked signs with pictures of vicious alligators, believe me, NO ONE would be lounging at the beach. Disney is fully responsible.
    The magic is gone.

  16. Pingback: Disney Responds to the Gator Attack by Adding Fences Along Shoreline – Words By Elle

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