The Slatest

Firefighters Had Been Feeding Alligators Near Site of Toddler Attack

A boat belonging to the Orange County Sheriff's office searches the Seven Seas lagoon outside Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa near Orlando, Florida on June 15, 2016.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office searches the Seven Seas lagoon outside Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa near Orlando, Florida, on June 15.

Gregg Newton/Getty Images

One month ago today, a 2-year-old boy was dragged underwater and drowned by an alligator while his family was on vacation from Nebraska at a Walt Disney World resort. This behavior was unusual, and it seemed likely the alligators had been primed to attack because they were used to being fed by humans. It turns out that they likely had been—by firefighters. Two months before that, firefighters at an on-site fire station were told to stop feeding the alligators at the resort.

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This revelation, uncovered by the Sun-Sentinel’s public-records requests, seems to bear out the idea that the death was more than a freak accident and in fact may have been spurred by inappropriate behavior. There was speculation at the time of the boy’s death that the alligators were emboldened by guests who made a practice of feeding wildlife. One story from the Orlando Sentinel ran a quote from a hotel employee (later taken out of the story) explaining the not-uncommon practice of guests feeding alligators that might wander by hotel balconies.*

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It turns out that perhaps in addition to this feeding, local firefighters had also been feeding the animals.

The email, sent April 20, said:

It was brought to our attention firefighters are feeding the alligators (this is illegal). The communicators have found [one alligator] by the station, near the dumpster, and where they park their cars. As you can imagine this is making the communicators nervous because they are fearful of walking to their car and their leg becoming dinner. We have notified Animal Control to remove the alligator. In the interim could you ask your crews to stop feeding the gator.

The firefighter station is about half a mile from the lagoon where the attack took place.

*Correction, July 15, 2016: This post originally misidentified the Orlando Sentinel as the Sun-Sentinel.

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