Park guests said Walt Disney World officials did little to inform guests of Tuesday's deadly alligator attack

By Siobhan Morrissey and Devan Stuart Lesley
Updated June 16, 2016 02:00 PM
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

The day after a 2-year-old boy was dragged to his death by an alligator at a Disney World resort, crowds of visitors – including parents with children in strollers or toddlers dressed as little princesses – appeared unaffected by the tragedy.

That may be because Walt Disney World officials did little to call attention to the lightning-fast attack that occurred at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Disney World Tuesday night.

Lane Graves of Elkhorn, Nebraska, was found some 16 hours after he disappeared into the murky water of the resort’s Seven Seas Lagoon. His parents, identified as Matt and Melissa Graves, witnessed the attack as the boy reportedly waded in a foot of water.

Authorities found five alligators in the lagoon before they ultimately located Lane near the shoreline on Wednesday afternoon.

Tammy and Louis Rosales of Dallas recalled hearing a helicopter flying low over the scene late into the night Tuesday and dismissed it as aerial tours of the Magic Kingdom.

They were in town for five days with their three granddaughters and were surprised that no one told them of the potential dangers lurking in the water.

“We didn’t hear anything about what happened last night,” Louis Rosales, a Dallas real estate attorney, tells PEOPLE.

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“You’d think the guy with the goofy grin saying, ‘Hey welcome to our park,’ you would think, they would say, ‘Just as a warning to all of our visitors, letting you know that there was a gator attack last night. Please be aware of the gator issue in this area.’ Why not tell us that? Especially if we’ve got small kids?”

A spokesperson for Disney did not have an immediate comment about whether they informed visitors of the attack.

Shopkeepers at the resort, who are not employed by Disney, also found it curious that Disney failed to discuss what happened.

One shop clerk, who asked not to be identified, recalled how a couple of customers wanted to know what had happened and said that they felt so sad for the parents.

Disney did not openly address the alligator attack – with neither the guests who were staying at the resort nor the people who worked in the shops.

Some visitors learned of the child’s death through family members who called or texted to see if they were all right. Others caught radio and TV news accounts of the tragedy.

Jenifer Williams, who has a 12-year-old daughter, learned about the tragedy from news reports.

“When I woke up this morning I was just laying in bed just checking the news and seeing what all went on last night,” Williams says. “I saw it and I started crying. It was really just upsetting. It could have been anybody’s child. It was just awful.”

Eric and Brittany Wilkinson were in town from Coral Springs, Florida with their two young children, 4-month-old Ryker and 2-year-old Elowyn.

Lane’s death hit home for the couple who have a 2-year-old daughter.

“We had family members calling because they were worried about what happened,” Eric tells PEOPLE. “We got a text in the middle of the night. We watched the fireworks and went to bed and we didn’t know until this morning when we woke up.”

Those living in Florida may be aware of the alligators prowling waterways, but those living elsewhere may not know of the dangers, he said, adding, “But still, you wonder where the parents were, if they weren’t keeping an eye on the child.”

Although there are “no swimming” signs outside the lagoon, there are none that forbid wading or warn of alligators in the area. One woman tells PEOPLE that she saw a small alligator on the premises when she stayed at the resort a year ago.

“I saw a little alligator last year,” she says, noting that she was visiting the resort from Ohio with her 2-year-old daughter. “I don’t blame Disney. This is wildlife.”

Kelli Haddox, who was visiting from Oklahoma with her 5-year-old son, placed no blame.

“I just think it’s a tragedy, just an accident,” Haddox said. “I don’t know that it’s necessarily the parents’ fault or Disney’s fault.”

Tammy Rosales echoed the sentiment that many felt.

“We’re just worried about the parents,” she said. “It’s a sad situation. I have to just mentally just keep pushing it back. I’m tearing up now. I can’t. It’s terrible.”

With additional reporting by ROSE MINUTAGLIO