San Diego Dad Says He Warned Disney About Alligators Last Year After Two Came Towards His Son: 'They Said They Were Resident Pets'
David Hiden, who nearly lost his own son a year ago at Disney, is now speaking out about last week's tragic alligator attack
Less than a week before Father s Day, Matt and Melissa Graves of Elkhorn, Nebraska, lost their 2-year-old son, Lane, to an alligator attack at Walt Disney World.
Another father who nearly lost his own son a year ago during a family vacation at Disney is now speaking out about the tragedy.
David Hiden, a San Diego attorney, says that in April 2015, two alligators came towards his 6-year-old son while they were staying at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando – just a few miles from where 2-year-old Lane was killed last week after an alligator attacked him while he was wading in about a foot of water at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.
“[My son] was playing and I looked past his head because something caught my attention and it was an alligator,” Hiden tells PEOPLE. “I grabbed him and brought him up to the path where it’s safe. I then noticed a second alligator.”
Hiden says he immediately warned authorities at the resort about the alligators, which he estimated to be about six feet each.
“When I went up to management, I was expecting them to flip out, immediately call security and get on the loud speaker to tell people to get out of the water,” he says. “But instead, they said, ‘These are resident pets and they’re not harmful. They can’t hurt anybody and we’ve known about them for years.’ ”
But Hiden, who took pictures and video of the alligator, insisted they were harmful animals that the hotel’s guests should know about during their stay.
“I told them they should really think about putting up warning signs,” he recalls. “I said, ‘Do whatever you want, but I hope I never read about one of your little ‘pets’ killing somebody because you guys aren’t doing anything.’ ”
On Friday, Disney released a statement to PEOPLE regarding changes in policy following Tuesday’s attack. “We are installing signage and temporary barriers at our resort beach locations and are working on permanent, long-term solutions at our beaches,” the statement read. “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.”
The concerned father says he was dismayed by the hotel staff’s reaction last year.
“I was just in shock because Disney is very safety-oriented; they are very family-conscious,” he continues. “I thought if there were alligators there, they would have put up warning signs. I would never have let my son get within 20 yards of a waterway that had alligators in it.”
When Hiden heard about Lane’s death last week, he immediately thought back to the close call his now 8-year-old son David had at the Coronado Springs Resort.
“I’m so stressed thinking about this family,” he says. “I wrote a letter to the president of Disney and told him I thought that this death rests 100 percent on you guys.”
Disney World is a place “where you pay a premium and you think it’s going to absolutely be swept clean,” he continues. “I honestly never thought that were would be alligators in any of their lakes.
“I would never in my life go into wild water in Florida and not expect to see alligators. But on Disney property? On a manmade lake? I m like everybody else – I just flat out assumed that these were safe. When you go to a Disney park, you always assume that it’s going to be safe.”
Hiden says his only motivation to tell his story was “to get Disney to put up alligator warning signs.”
On Friday, Disney installed new signs and temporary barriers on resort beach locations. The new warning signs, which appear in red, read: “DANGER. ALLIGATORS AND SNAKES IN AREA. STAY AWAY FROM THE WATER. DO NOT FEED THE WILDLIFE,” and feature images of an alligator and a snake.
“They have finally posted the signs, but there is nothing happy about this,” Hiden says, adding that he was overcome with emotion upon hearing of the toddler’s tragic death last week.
Lane’s father tried desperately to fight off the gator, suffering lacerations on his hand, but neither he nor a lifeguard from a nearby pool could save the boy, who was laid to rest Tuesday.
“I commended the dad for putting his own life on the line to save his kid without thinking, as any loving father would do,” Hiden says.