A search and rescue operation that began frantically on Tuesday night for a 2-year-old boy who was attacked then dragged by a 7- to 8-foot alligator at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa turned into a "recovery effort" Wednesday as local authorities focus on giving "closure" to the boy's family.
"Right now, all we're doing is searching for a little boy to hopefully bring a family some closure," Jeff Williamson, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Office, told the Orlando Sentinel.
According to USA Today, at least 50 wildlife specialists, including a trained alligator trapper, were searching for the boy Wednesday who was snatched as he played in about a foot of water at the Seven Seas Lagoon at the Grand Floridian Hotel with his father.
"The father entered the water, and he tried to grab the child, but was not successful in doing so," Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings told reporters.
The mother also rushed into the water to try to save the boy, according to USA Today. And when they were unable to recover him, the couple alerted a nearby lifeguard who called 911. The father received minor injuries to his hand.
"Right now we're going to bring in some fresh eyes and continue with the search," Williamson said. "Prepare for the worst, hope for the best."
Separate teams searching for the boy found four alligators but no sign of the child.
Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who is spearheading the search, told the Orlando Sentinel that investigators aren't giving up hope in their search, but the chances of a successful rescue fades the longer the search continues.
Williamson said deputies were using sonar on Wednesday to search the man-made Seven Seas Lagoon lake, with help from a helicopter and 10-person dive team.
Wiley said the American alligator was feeding and likely confused the boy for a dog or a raccoon as alligators do not typically feed on humans. "People — even small people — are not their typical prey," he said.
An employee at the resort who did not want to be identified said in an email to the Sentinel that there is a problem at the resort with guests regularly feeding the reptiles from balconies.
"There is such a problem on property with guests feeding the alligators thinking it's cool," the employee said, noting there are two balconies at the Buena Vista Palace from which people regularly feed the alligators.
The Sentinel reports that it was the boy's splashing in the water that first caught the attention of hotel guests who quickly realized he was in danger.
Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Rose Silva told The Sentinel that the initial report came into officials at 9:16 p.m. Tuesday.
"Everyone here at the Walt Disney World Resort is devastated by this tragic accident. Our thoughts are with the family. We are helping the family and doing everything we can to assist law enforcement," Jacquee Wahler, vice president of Walt Disney World Resort, said in a statement cited by ABC News.
According to the Sentinel, there are no signs warning of gators in the area, but there are notices posted against swimming in the lake.