Losing a child to an alligator attack on the shores of a man-made lagoon at a Disney resort is not negligent parenting. It’s a freak, horrible accident. In the wake of the news about a little boy who died that way in Florida earlier this week, rhe less-charitable Internet commenters of the world rushed to blame the parents. It might have made them feel safer to think that this sort of thing was due to negligence and could not happen to them, but the truth is, it was a freak accident that could have happened to virtually anybody. It really could have happened to another mother vacationing in the same resort, because Jennifer Venditti of Massachusetts posted a photo of her own 3-year-old son playing in the water exactly where the other boy was when he was snatched just half an hour later.
(Photo: Facebook/Jennifer Venditti)
“PRAY, PRAY so hard for the family & for those who witnessed this tragic event,” she wrote. “I took these pics at the exact spot this happened between 8 & 830, the incident happened at 9. Helicopters flew overhead til 1 am and were back around dawn. I can’t imagine anyone could sleep knowing that the helicopter was searching for a missing child taken by an alligator. I can’t help but wonder if we played with him, did I talk to his Mom?? How does one go home without your baby in tow? I’ve already seen posts criticizing the parents. I can assure you alligators were not on my mind at all when Channing was in the water. It’s a tiny beach, surrounded by pools, water slides, a restaurant and a fire pit. I can’t conceive that an alligator would be in such a busy, small space. #judgelesspraymore“
Considering the way people have been criticizing the toddler’s grieving parents, it’s pretty brave of Venditti to share the pictures. Doing so expresses support for the family of Lane Graves, who somehow have to get on a plane and go back to Nebraska without their child, but it also opens her up to the same kind of attacks they’ve been getting. Her son Channing was doing exactly what Lane Graves was doing when he was killed.
But Venditti’s photos really show that wading in the water at the edge of the lagoon seemed like a totally normal thing for a small child to be doing. It wasn’t dark. It wasn’t deserted. It was just a toddler splashing his feet in the water, and then an unspeakable tragedy occurred. Even Sheriff Jerry Dennings said it was “what any 2-year-old would do” on a nice June night in Florida.
It’s true that there are signs at the lagoon saying “no swimming,” but according to a photo of one such sign on The Daily Mail the sign says “Steep Drop-off Deep Water No Swimming.”
Yes, it was dangerous because there were alligators. But I’d probably look at that and think it was OK to put one’s feet in at the shore. It just warns of a steep drop-off, and it’s a deep lagoon full of boats. Don’t go swimming in it, but getting one’s feet wet would seem reasonable. (The nearby Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress hotel reportedly has signs saying, “Beware” and “Please be aware of alligators in lakes.”)
Some people have been posting comments like, “It’s Florida. Of course there are alligators.” But knowing that there are alligators in Florida and thinking one will leap from a man-made lagoon at a luxury resort and grab a closely-monitored child and manage to get away with it against the violent and frantic efforts of the child’s father is a totally different thing.
I’m from Chicago. This is literally everything I know about alligators:
1. Alligators live in the water but are not fish. They live in Florida and Louisiana. Maybe the rest of the south, too? I don’t know.
2. Alligators are different than crocodiles.
3. Alligators fall asleep when you flip them over because of some kind of sack in their brains that makes them fall asleep when flipped over.
4. Alligator handbags and accessories are less expensive than crocodile.
5. I ate alligator a couple times at food events in Brooklyn. It was unremarkable.
This tragedy happened on a nice night at a family-friendly resort. The parents were not negligent or irresponsible, they were just doing what countless other tourist parents were doing that same night. And honestly, with multiple families letting their kids splash in the water, I would probably have thought that if it were really dangerous there would be a lifeguard or some kind of monitor. It’s Disney. Every aspect of that experience is combed and curated. It could have happened to anybody. It could have happened to this little boy, or a different one. If we were there, it could probably have happened to us, too. The family of Lane Graves deserves sympathy, not judgment.