Local police identified the little boy as two-year-old Lane Graves, son of Matt and Melissa Graves from Elkhorn, Nebraska, in mid-western USA.
The family, including Lane’s four-year-old sister, were sitting near the edge of the man-made Seven Seas Lagoon at on Tuesday night, when an alligator snatched the toddler and dragged him into the deep water at around 9pm.
Matt Graves attempted to wrestle his son from the animal’s jaws, but was unable to save the little boy. He suffered cuts and scratches to his hand.
More than 60 emergency service workers were searching for the toddler, but the operation switched to a recovery effort after approximately 15 hours. It was police divers with sonar technology that ultimately located his remains in the murky water at around 3:30pm Thursday, Orlando time.
Authorities are awaiting formal identification, but say the remains were “intact”, leaving “no reason to believe” the body recovered was not that of the missing boy.
They are currently awaiting the results of an autopsy, though initial assessment indicated that Lane had drowned.
Although alligators are prolific in their native Florida, authorities claim attacks of this kind are rare – just two fatal incidents have occurred across the state since 2007. It is the first in Disney World’s 45-year history.
While the theme park remained open, Disney closed all marinas and recreational areas in the wake of the attack. It is currently investigating the incident.
The lagoon stretches more than 800,000 square kilometres, and feeds into a series of canals that wind through the park. There were no signs warning the public about the presence of alligators.
The Orlando Sentinel spoke to a man who witnessed the aftermath of the attack from his balcony at the Grand Floridian Resort.
“I heard somebody screaming and yelling. I thought someone got in a fight,” said Bil Wilson. “I looked over and here comes one of the lifeguards…The mother was there and she was frantic, running up and down looking.”