brightcove.createExperiences(); The frantic search for a 2-year-old boy who was dragged into a lake by an alligator at a Walt Disney World hotel in Orlando on Tuesday has come to a tragic end.
The family of Lane Graves, the 2-year-old boy who was dragged into a lake by an alligator at a Walt Disney World hotel in Orlando on Tuesday, asked for privacy to grieve, the Orange County Sheriff’s office said late Wednesday night.
“The Graves family appreciate the support they have received and have asked for privacy as they grieve the loss of their son,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement shortly after releasing the first photo of their son.
The toddler’s body was found completely intact by Orange County Sheriff’s dive team on Wednesday.
“At about 3:30 today we recovered the remains of the 2-year-old from the water and that body has been turned over to the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy,” Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said.
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“Autopsy has to confirm, but there’s likely no question in my mind that the child was drowned by the alligator,” he continued. “The child was found within the immediate area of where he was last seen. It took some time to go through, but our divers were able to locate the body using sonar equipment.”
Authorities – along with a priest – delivered the tragic news to the family upon the discovery of the body.
“Of course, the family was distraught, but also somewhat relieved that we were able to find their son with his body intact and that his body was located so they can come to grips with what happened,” said Demings, who added “it was a tough message to deliver to them to let them know that their child was dead.”
The family also said “they do appreciate all of the prayers that have gone forward to allow those of us working to do our jobs to recover their son so that they can move forward at this time with a proper burial,” according to Demings.
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Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission executive director Nick Wiley added: “We’re going to look at the five alligators we have taken. There’s a good chance we already have the alligator because we focused our efforts on that proximity and that area where this occurred. If we can’t get a certain match we’re going to do everything to make sure we have taken that alligator out.”
The discovery comes just one day after the little boy was dragged into the Seven Seas Lagoon by an alligator at around 9:30 p.m. near the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa on Tuesday – the animal is believed to be from four to seven feet long, authorities said at a Tuesday news conference.
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The Nebraska boy was on vacation with his family at the Orlando theme park. He was playing in about a foot of water when the alligator came out of the lake and attacked. The boy’s father tried desperately to fight off the gator, suffering lacerations on his hand, but neither he nor a lifeguard could save the boy, the Associated Press reports.
There were “no swimming” signs posted around the area, however there was no signage warning visitors about the presence of alligators, PEOPLE has confirmed.
Rescue teams were in the air and the water on Wednesday searching for the boy, according to the Associated Press.
Authorities were initially hopeful, with Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Jeff Williamson saying that officials were “hoping for the best.”
Demings made similar statements at a Tuesday night news conference.
“We’re not leaving until we recover the child,” he said. “As a father, as a grandfather, we’re going to hope for the best in these circumstances.
“But based upon my 35 years of law enforcement experience, we know that we have some challenges ahead of us at this time.”
On Wednesday, authorities announced that the young boy was presumed dead and that search efforts had shifted from search and rescue to search and recovery.
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“We are working on recovering the body of the child at this point,” Demings said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
He added that the boy’s family would “no question lose a 2-year-old child.”
The boy’s parents have been identified as Matt and Melissa Graves of Elkhorn, Nebraska – a suburb of Omaha. Matt Graves sits on the board of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, which released a statement Wednesday afternoon.
“The loss of a child is a special kind of tragedy, particularly hard to comprehend. Our thoughts and our prayers are with the Graves family during this time of unthinkable sadness,” Chamber president and CEODavid Brown said. “We stand ready to assist [Matt], his wife and family as they grieve the loss of Lane.”
Disney released a statement shortly after the body was recovered. “There are no words to convey the profound sorrow we feel for the family and their unimaginable loss,” George A. Kalogridis, president of Walt Disney World Resort said in the statement. “We are devastated and heartbroken by this tragic accident and are doing what we can to help them during this difficult time.”
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Disney CEO Bob Iger also released a statement on Wednesday evening. “As a parent and a grandparent, my heart goes out to the Graves family during this time of devastating loss,” Iger said in a statement, according to Gant News. “My thoughts and prayers are with them, and I know everyone at Disney joins me in offering our deepest sympathies.”
The incident is just the latest tragedy to occur in the state this week. At least 49 people died and dozens were injured on Sunday when a gunman opened fire on the Orlando gay-friendly nightclub, Pulse.