Paul Santamaria was feeding ducks at Walt Disney World in 1985 when an alligator attacked him

By Lindsay Kimble
Updated June 16, 2016 04:05 PM
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For Paul Santamaria, Wednesday’s tragic alligator attack at a Walt Disney World resort is a stark reminder of what could have been.

In 1985, then-8-year-old Santamaria was attacked by an alligator at a Disney World’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, according to an Associated Press report from that year. While Santamaria wasn’t seriously injured, the gator was able to inflict four or five superficial lacerations on his thigh, knee and lower left leg, the AP said. He was hospitalized for a week.

The beach, Santamaria now tells the AP, was just 3 miles from where 2-year-old Lane Graves was taken and killed this week.

“I have two little girls the age of the boy that was taken, and it was just something that kind of hit home,” he said.

Santamaria was feeding ducks at a pound when the gator attacked him, grabbing his leg and trashing as it tried to pull him into the water, he explained to WPTV 5.

His older sister, 12, and brother, 10, sprang into action, pulling him away while hitting the gator, Santamaria said. The gator eventually let him go and was later shot and killed.

“Instead of just freezing, they decided to fight, to help me to fight to get away, and I’m here because of it,” he told the AP. “I was lucky.”

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Graves’ body was found intact by the Orange County Sheriff’s dive team on Wednesday. He had been dragged into the Seven Seas Lagoon while wading in water near Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. Sheriff Jerry L. Demings said in a Tuesday news conference that “no swimming” signs were posted around the area. There were not, however, signs warning of alligators.

Five alligators were removed from the lagoon following the attack, and are being investigated by the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission to determine if they are the reptile in question.

The little boy was on vacation from Nebraska with his family.

“As a parent and a grandparent, my heart goes out to the Graves family during this time of devastating loss,” Disney CEO Bob 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.”