LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Walt Disney World plans to honor a 2-year-old Elkhorn-area boy who was killed by an alligator last year at one of its resorts near Orlando with a sculpture of a lighthouse.
A year ago Wednesday, an alligator grabbed little Lane Graves, who was playing along the Seven Seas Lagoon beach outside Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. The child’s father jumped into the water to try to free his son, whose body was found 16 hours later. His death was ruled an accident.
The sculpture is of a lighthouse, a symbol of the Lane Thomas Foundation, which was created in memory of the child.
“The foundation is dedicated to supporting families of children needing life-saving organ transplants,” Walt Disney World Resort president George A. Kalogridis said in a statement Tuesday.
“To provide continued awareness of the foundation and its mission, we’ve commissioned an original sculpture of the lighthouse the foundation uses as a symbol of love and hope, to be installed on our property this summer.”
The location of the sculpture hasn’t been disclosed.
According to final reports released last year by Florida authorities, Lane was fetching wet sand to build a sandcastle on the beach of Disney World resort when the alligator grabbed him and dragged him into the water.
Officials suspect that the alligator mistook Lane Graves — who was 3 feet tall and 30 pounds — as its usual prey, such as an opossum, armadillo or raccoon. The boy died of head and neck trauma and drowning, the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office concluded.
“The victim’s small size and position (bent down) at the time of the attack would appear to the alligator similar to many of its normal food sources, ” the report said.
For their report on the June 14 attack, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission interviewed witnesses and Lane’s parents, Matt and Melissa Graves, and analyzed alligators that they trapped and killed in an attempt to determine which one had attacked the boy.
Officials said they were unable to determine which of two female alligators had attacked Lane because of a lack of a distinct wound pattern. A total of six alligators were captured, euthanized and examined.
Officials said, however, that they were “confident that the evidence gathered shows it is very likely that one of the two females captured close to the attack location was the offending animal.”
The Graves family had left their room at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa in Orlando about 8:30 p.m. June 14 and headed to the beach to watch a scheduled outdoor showing of the movie “Zootopia.” The family, including Lane’s 4-year-old sister, Ella, had arrived in Orlando two days earlier for a family vacation.
The showing of the movie was canceled because of incoming bad weather, officials said. The family walked to the edge of the water while Lane scooped up wet sand in his plastic bucket.
About 9 p.m., Matt Graves saw a splash in the ankle-deep water, but thought it was a fish. Then he saw an alligator that he estimated to be 5 to 6 feet long grab his son’s head and pull the boy into the lagoon.
Graves, who was close enough to grab the alligator, told investigators that he jumped into the water and put his hands in the animal’s mouth — grabbing its teeth — but the alligator “just took off.”
Witnesses said they saw Graves punching the alligator and pulling his son’s feet, but the alligator “whipped (Lane) further out into the water.”
Graves suffered puncture wounds on his arms, cuts to his hands and scratches on his feet, the reports said. Graves sought treatment at Florida Hospital Celebration Health at the suggestion of authorities.
Officials said the lagoon, which is up to 20 feet deep, “is not unsuitable habitat for alligators, but it would not be considered a preferred location due to the deep, clear water, lack of cover, insufficient areas to bask, limited sources of sustenance and high levels of human activity.”
Lane’s body was found intact a day later, 10 to 15 feet from the shore.
The boy’s scalp, jaw, neck and left hand had puncture wounds, according to a final autopsy report.
The report said “No Swimming” signs were posted near the beach.
Four days after the attack, Disney installed signs that warned of danger from alligators and snakes and said “Stay away from the water; Do not feed the wildlife.”